Trust is one of those things in life that is similar to air, once it is gone, it is all you can think about. Each of us build it and give it in different ways and there are tons of articles and books out there that discuss how to develop it, maintain it, and rebuild it. I’m not going to spend time on all that today. This is just a short entry based on something I heard on the way to work earlier this week and it really stood out to me. It led me to one inescapable fact, most attendance or vacation policies undermine the degree of trust in the workplace. Let me explain.
As I drove in one morning the radio station I was listening to awarded a caller concert tickets, backstage passes, and the full VIP treatment for a major concert event that was happening the next day starting at 2p. They asked if she could get the day off and the caller responded simply, “I will have to figure something out.” To which the DJ replied “you’re gonna have to call in sick is what you’re gonna do!” And I started thinking, why? Why do we run first to a complete lie? She is not sick, she has no plans of being sick, and even if she did feel a little feverish that is not why she wasn’t going to work. Is it not acceptable to use a granted day off for whatever we need? And I started thinking back to a recent employer I worked for.
While I worked there I had vacation days and sick days. Now, I did not quite understand the difference other than from a payroll perspective: one set of days was accrued each week and the other set was granted at the start of each year of my employment. I was very explicitly explained however, that vacation days had to be planned at least two weeks in advance and sick days could only be used if I called the morning of my expected absence. This made absolutely no sense to me. What if something came up on Monday that I knew was going to prevent me from working on Thursday? I would not be granted a vacation day since it was within the two week period, and I could not tell people I would be “sick” on Thursday so we could plan around it. Instead, the policy was enforced such that anytime that happened, it caused a great deal of stress amongst my team members because it totally screwed up the schedule for the day I was absent with no notice. This just seemed ridiculous and if I was honest and said, “hey, I have a free nights stay at Vail for Wednesday night so I am going to stay and ski on Thursday.” I was told that was not an acceptable absence and I would not be paid. WTH?! So instead, I lied and called from the Vail ski lift and had to pretend I was sick – “[cough, cough], ugh…I don’t feel well and I don’t think I can make it.” And I just prayed someone on the ski lift did not talk about the snow conditions loud enough to alert my boss.
What made this even more ridiculous was I had to lie on Friday, too. I had to tell them how I felt much better and it must have just been a 24 hour thing. I mean, really, how often does your cold only last 24 hours and then you are fine? Nevermind the sunburn you happen to have on the day you return. So not only was the policy designed to make me lie, it encouraged me to keep lying! I even went so far once to bring in a walking stick for a week because I made up that I sprained my ankle so badly I could not drive in one day (I think my wife and I decided to have a Spring picnic that day.)
As I have matured and learned more about employee engagement, honesty, and truly supportive cultures (and the benefits of all those) it simply baffles me that we start this dishonesty with the whole concept of “sick” days. As if the only acceptable reason you can miss work is if you are ill. We will pay you if you are sick and doing nothing but not if you are out enjoying your life. It’s as if we only want to compensate people for being miserable instead of happy.
My invitation to you is to look at some of your policies of how you “police”, “babysit”, and “parent” your employees. Are they creating an environment of honesty and trust, or do employees get rewarded for being dishonest? What kind of culture do you want? If it is trust, then model that. If you are getting the results you want, then who cares where they are. Your responsibility as a manager and leader is to encourage results, not be a “home room teacher” granting hall passes.