I remember a time when I was a supervisor of a restaurant. Except I wasn’t, I was more like a manager since we had no head chef at the time. I had many responsibilities, including making a few hires and managing the schedule. When staff called in sick, front of house or back of house, I was one of the few that handled the calls. We had a policy in place that required I request a note when a staff member was sick. And I never questioned this policy, mostly because I remember being on the receiving end, being asked to provide a note from a manager in other places I worked. This was most likely to minimize those people that would play hooky, I know I certainly did when I was in school. Still, despite having worked in restaurants for about 10 years, and despite the fact food is handled by hand and there are a lot of safety measures implemented, every single one of these restaurants had this policy, this attitude of distrust with illness and sickness, with the sick person usually still coming into work after being refused.
Let me remind you that a kitchen would do this. A kitchen.
A kitchen is a workplace with working men and women that prepare your food by handling and dressing your salad or steak, then serving it to you. So you must see the irony in continuing to cook while being sick. Granted, I have a habit of washing my hands after touching anything because it was drilled into us cooks, but still; quite the policy to have when employees are sick and touching your food, eh?
What is it about the pressure and stress of work that forces managers and other leaders to ask their employees to deal with their illness, and to keep working? And the crazy thing is this idea has been in our society for generations, the “Work in the trenches” type of attitude, so some workers don’t even question it, with some people even denying their sickness out of fear of being looked down on by their employer.
Entrepreneurs and contractors have a similar attitude, not all of them, but I have been around some that dismiss illness for the sake of their business. I have had employers teach me how much I had to sacrifice in order to be successful with my business, with my health and sleep being a couple of these things, which I tried to oblige. Now, I don’t want to view this negatively, after all, when you have yourself to rely on, when you have a family to support, you do your best to make an income; but if you are sick while helping your customers, aren’t you putting them at risk? Aren’t you doing more harm then good?
Steven Pinker has talked extensively about the state of the world and how violence has been reduced throughout it. Disease isn’t what it was 100 years ago, so our civilization is better for all this advancement in medicine. There have been multiple vaccines that was created to curb some of the harshest diseases, like polio, and even causing the elimination of some diseases, like smallpox. Another point is our immune systems have improved with time because of vaccines. Vaccines are weakened forms of the disease that our immune system treats as an foreign invader and fights off, then afterwards our immune system knows how to respond to similar, greater threats, so perhaps working through illness is even easier. Lastly, with over the counter pharmaceuticals like cough syrups and the various kinds of Ibuprofen, to remedies that help improve our immune systems, we continue to be better able to stave off the symptoms of disease. With the demands of work, it is expected, if not advertised that we must do more to recover quickly, in order to provide and contribute to our economy.
As a trainer, I have had clients that would be sick for weeks and weeks, all while working on a difficult caseload, or a project that had a very strict demand or deadline. And they would keep going, usually complaining about how sick they are. Despite my intervention or advice of resting and taking time off, it was usually shrugged off. I have told a couple clients to stay in and not to bother coming to the gym. I always found the complaints of sickness and illness while training, or dealing with work while being sick kind of funny. It makes me think of this video.
Our work won’t allow it. Our employers won’t allow. Wait, actually, money. Money won’t allow it.
People will continue to be served. Clients will be helped. Contracts will still be signed. And the world will keep spinning. Maybe it comes with this feeling that things will go into disarray if we aren’t there, and for some, it is because they can’t afford to take a sick day. It just shows how powerful the desire and need for money actually is. When some business owners and managers dismiss the care and wellbeing of their employees, at least in the times I cooked and worked in restaurants, it only reminds me that production is more important then the people in the trenches.
I see this as a good reminder though, this reminder to be hygienic (I guess common sense isn’t so common.) But it is a little sad, because a pandemic – let me repeat, a pandemic – is what is required to treat the working people with respect. Respect enough to ask workers to put their health first. Respect enough to consider their customers in conjunction with their employees. However, so long as the health and wellbeing of people are being considered, no matter how or why, at least it is being considered. Maybe this is a reminder that the people working hard on projects, in the dishpit, or cleaning your toilets are still people. And their wellbeing is to be considered.