Why So Many Employers Are Getting Rid of Sick Days

Sick man with thermometer in mouth

Are sick days a thing of the past? | iStock.com/IPGGutenbergUKLtd

We’ve all had the weekday morning roll around when the night before is all too fresh in our minds — or perhaps a hazy mess. Or there’s that morning when you wake up and just simply can’t deal with facing your boss and that nasty co-worker who is always making your life miserable. Perhaps you simply need a day away from the spreadsheets, customers, and mind-numbing routine you call work.

In most companies, your only way out involves pulling a modern-day Ferris Bueller, running a thermometer under hot water (or whatever makes you feel slightly better about your subterfuge), and then calling your boss — hoping he buys the sniffles you’re conjuring up. Taking a much-needed personal day turns into a mini saga reminiscent of the soap operas your mom used to watch, and you spend half your day wondering whether they’ll believe you the next time you really are sick.

Thankfully, a more flexible approach in the modern workplace means companies are making paid time off more versatile, too. Not only can you avoid the cloak-and-dagger approach to taking a personal day, but a more malleable PTO schedule benefits employee engagement and job satisfaction, as well.

But first, did you know you actually don’t have a right to sick days in America?

No more sick days

sick days, file tab with the word employees plus a note with the text sick leaves

Sick days aren’t guaranteed. | iStock.com/Olivier Le Moal

Sick leave is not a federal guarantee in the United States, even though many people think it is. Companies are not required to offer paid time off if you or a loved one is sick — though many people now consider it a right. In most cases, hourly workers and those earning the minimum wage are the least likely to get paid time off for illness, though the number of states and municipalities requiring sick leave is growing.

However, for those who have already had access to sick days, the format might be changing for the better. The old-school model breaks out paid time off between vacation and sick days — occasionally throwing in a personal day or two. When sick days are specifically for the days you feel ill, trends suggest it encourages employees to lie in order to use that time.

Next: The real reason people call in sick

Workers have things to do

man sleeping on office desk

There is a lot of mistrust around sick days. | iStock.com

One CareerBuilder survey found 38% of people who called in sick weren’t actually under the weather — they had a doctor’s appointment, wanted to run errands, or simply needed a break. A separate survey found when a co-worker calls in sick, roughly 80% of their colleagues think they’re lying.

Obviously, a culture of mistrust around sick days isn’t going to foster healthy engagement at work — especially because last-minute days off tend to put extra pressure on the people who did throw off the blankets at 6 a.m. and made it to the office. According to several human resources experts, changing the setup of sick days can repair that culture and give employees more freedom.

Next: The new models coming to a workplace near you

New models for PTO

vacation

Allowing employees generic personal days gives them a sense of freedom, experts say. | iStock.com

Depending on the company, more flexible days off can look like a few different things. One model is to offer “duvet days” instead of sick days — allowing the time off to be for any personal reason. It’s for those mornings when you simply can’t get out of bed (hence “duvet”) — whether it’s because you’ve come down with the flu or because you need a mental break from work. It’s a simple rebranding of the sick day, but HR professionals say it works as intended.

“It’s a matter of semantics, but calling them ‘sick days’ as opposed to ‘personal days’ tends to make employees fib,” Karen A. Young, author of Stop Knocking on My Door: Drama Free HR to Help Grow Your Business, told Fast Company. “Sometimes we all need a mental health day away from work. From an employee relations standpoint, there is a stronger sense of freedom if I have time to use for personal reasons.”

For companies that struggle to get their employees to take restful time off, changing the name also helps to ward off burnout. “The new name makes them feel more like vacation or recuperative time,” Sherri Mitchell, co-founder and president of the staffing franchise All About People, told Fast Company. “Employees might be more likely to use more of their personal days than they would with just sick days.”

Next: Employees have more options.

Bundled PTO: More flexibility for employees

call in sick

Employees feel less restricted with bundled PTO days. | iStock.com

In other cases, companies have lumped all of the vacation, sick time, and personal days into one pool, to be used at the employee’s discretion. It’s up to the employee to set aside sick days if they need them, but otherwise they can choose how to use their PTO. That’s the case here at The Cheat Sheet, where employees accrue PTO on a rolling basis and can use it however we choose.

The decision to group all the PTO together started as a way to ease the administrative duties of tracking individual sick and vacation schedules, said Meridith Burrows, The Cheat Sheet’s vice president of human resources. However, it also matches the culture of the company, whose entire staff works remotely from destinations all across the United States and abroad.

We’re a flexible company, and this is just one more way that we can flexible,” Burrows said. Bundling PTO together also has another advantage, in that most employees avoid last-minute days off unless they are truly sick. If they know they’re planning to be away or might need the personal day after an active weekend, it’s within their ability to ask off ahead of time, without worrying about using sick days versus vacation PTO. 

As a media company that balances the demand for new content with the needs of its employees, that extra heads-up helps, Burrows said. “Why would we want to encourage last-minute reporting like that?” she asked. “We’d rather know that information up front.” Restricting personal time off to sick days just encourages people to be dishonest — or to feel like they’re not believed when they actually do need a sick day. “We don’t want people to have that feeling,” Burrows said. “It’s not treating people like the adults that they are.” 

When companies promote a culture of understanding and support, it leads to higher engagement, according to the findings of a study from Project: Time Off. “There is a direct correlation between employees who feel strong support from their bosses and colleagues and employee engagement,” the study said. “The more support an employee feels, the more likely they are to report higher levels of happiness.”

Plus, as Burrows says, having a more flexible approach to PTO can also be a tool when recruiting — or retaining — employees. “We felt like it would be empowering,” she said. “It’s an HR selling point to use the days for whatever you want.”

Is it time for you to get a new job?

Young man applying for a job

Filling out job application | Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

If you’re sick of your job, you’re not alone. A full quarter of America’s workforce is fed up, and either actively searching for another job, or is at least giving it some serious thought. This says a lot about the current state of the American workplace – and a lot about how Americans view the economy. On one hand, it’s a drag that so many people are unhappy. On the other, it’s a good sign that people are confident enough to test the waters of the job market.

The age-old question, of course, is how to mount an effective strategy to find a new, better, more satisfying job.

Job-search and career guidance site CareerCast has just issued a report to help everyone out. We all know that we should be taking certain measures to increase our chances of securing an interview – tailoring our resumes and cover letters, for example – but there are numerous other small, worthwhile steps to take to give yourself an edge over the competition. Employers are looking for quality candidates, and though you may know or think that you’re the ideal applicant, you need to sell yourself.

With input from a number of recruiting and hiring experts, CareerCast’s report outlines six bulletproof strategies you can employ in your job search to help get results. Working in concert with your established tactics, these should help you get a leg up on the competition.

Let’s take a closer look at CareerCast’s suggestions for finding a better job.

1. Get creative

Your resume is your primary tool in your job search, and it should be constantly evolving and changing to make sure that it is up to date, memorable, and hard to ignore. CareerCast suggests trying to put together a graphical resume, which commands attention, and looks incredibly slick.

“If you are in a visual or presentation focus field it’s nice to present something a little more than Times New Roman,” Blue Fountain Media hiring manager Tom Duffy told CareerCast.

2. Get out of your comfort zone

businessman listening to music with earphones

Source: iStock

You’ll have to slog through the proverbial mud a bit, if you’re hoping to break new ground in your career. The fact is, most people aren’t willing to get out of their comfort zone, and those that do are able to open up new paths and doors that weren’t there before. If you truly want to see change, you’ll need to take bold steps – which includes vanquishing fears and self-doubt.

Get off the beaten path, and think of different approaches to old problems. That means getting a little dirty, sometimes.

3. Become a Networking Warrior

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

You’ve heard it before: it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Though you may have been apprehensive or shy about networking, you need to start getting out there. That may mean giving your LinkedIn profile some serious work, or transforming yourself into a permanent fixture at local networking events. The fact is, employers hire based off of employee recommendations. You need to be one of those recommendations.

“If anybody who works at Blue Fountain Media refers someone, I’m going to call them,” Duffy told CareerCast. “[A referrer is] 1. Going to know if [a referral] might have the skills we’re looking for, and 2. We communicate as a sign of respect to current employees.”

4. Know your value

pen and money

Source: iStock

Knowing what you’re worth can be tricky, but with tools like PayScale, Glassdoor, and information from the government about your industry, it’s easier than ever. Just sit down and do some research – figure out what skills you have, and what they are potentially worth to a company in your industry. Recruiters know what you’re worth. So go in to a negotiation with realistic expectations.

5. Do your homework

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Again – do some research ahead of time. That not only includes salary expectations, but digging into the details of the company that you’re applying to, the industry it’s in, and perhaps even the individuals you’ll be meeting if granted an interview. When preparing for the interview, make sure you have a plan to demonstrate how and why you’re the perfect fit, and discuss your skill set as it relates to what the company is looking for.

Be versatile, quick, and confident.

6. Be respectful

Source: iStock

Source: iStock

Above all, you need to have a good attitude when putting yourself on the job market. That doesn’t mean simply smiling and going through the motions, but also highlighting the positives from the job you’re leaving, and any other work experience – even though it may not have all been rosy. Employers don’t need to think that you’re going to quit after a year, and go trash them on the Internet and to others in the industry. Be respectful, and communicate that you’re the type of person they’ll want on staff.

Follow Nikelle on Twitter and Facebook.

More from Money & Career Cheat Sheet:

More Articles About: