It’s that time of year again — cold and flu season. It typically starts the week after kids head back to school….and sure enough our entire family has been down with a cold this past week.
Back when I was still working, I notice something really peculiar about being sick and working: Most people would still show up to work even if they were ill. The pressure to perform in the modern workplace was pushing people back to work far sooner than they really should have.
This ends up spreading the virus faster than bad news on a Tuesday.
Yet another example of the modern corporate world pushing people down a path that’s bad for our health and bad for our happiness.
Modern Companies Might Be Even Worse
But wait a minute — What if you happen to work at one of these so called “modern” companies that don’t “do” sick days?
I used to work at one of these companies — essentially they didn’t have sick leave. Instead, PTO and sick leave were treated as exactly the same thing — Paid Leave. When I needed to stay home (regardless of the purpose), I had to use my 10 annual PTO days.
As you might expect, this system incentivized me to attend work even when I wasn’t healthy… mainly because I didn’t want to lose one of my precious days off.
In my mind, this is a terrible system. It incentivized exactly the opposite of what a company should want — you to stay home and not spread the cold even further.
What about companies that have unlimited vacation days?
While only about 1% of companies in the United States have such a policy, it’s really not that different. They don’t care if it’s a sick day or a vacation day. Think you’ll take-off more vacation if such a policy is instituted? Think again!
The onus of performance is placed squarely on the employee’s shoulders. How well do you think you’ll do during performance review time when you spent a month in the Bahama’s while everyone else was working?
Yeah, probably not that great.
It’s a race to the bottom, and our corporate masters are loving it. What’s more, with unlimited vacation policies corporations don’t even have to pay for accrued PTO days when you’re are laid-off or quit.
Parents Have It Worse
You think heading back to work still sick is rough? After I became a parent, I discovered that parents have it far worse.
Most parents have had one of those mornings… The alarm clock goes off at the usual time. You shower, you dress, and begin the day’s preparations. Everything seems perfectly normal….until it’s time to wake the kids up.
That’s when everything goes to hell.
During the night, one of your children developed a fever. When you feel their forehead, you realize the entire day just went down the tubes.
A Parent’s Lost Days
As you might expect, a child with a fever can’t go to school or day care. It’s a typical policy found at most schools and childcare centers. They don’t want you spreading the sickness further. If you have younger children, this also means the child has to stay home with a parent.
Any plans you had for the day are completely thrown out the window because you have to stay home. Had a 8:00AM meeting you needed to attend? Well, you better reschedule! Trying to bust-ass to get that promotion at work? Woops! Taking unexpected sick days isn’t going to help.
For working parents this kind of scenario is a minor nightmare. Who’s going to stay home? Who took the last unexpected sick day? Who’s got the most flexible schedule? Which parent had the most important meeting to attend? It’s an exercise in trying to determine which parent will encounter the least career damage.
I won’t even try to imagine how stressful this must be for single parents….
According to some statistics, children “acquire” an average of 6-10 colds per year. If we assume a fever lasts only one day, that’s a potential 6-10 days lost to caring for sick kids.
Parents get double-torture because eventually they’ll contract the virus, and stay home for another 6 to 10 days per year. If you have to use PTO days for sick leave (like I did), this quickly eats up the PTO.
Before kids, I thought of PTO as vacation days. Days when I would relax, maybe fly to someplace tropical, and enjoy a cool beverage beside the pool.
After kids, my PTO days became sick days, or taking care of sick kid days.
Vacation? What the hell is that? I rarely had any PTO left after all the sick days. It really sucks!
The FIRE Advantage
With two kids and a full time job it felt like I was sick all the time, or staying home with a sick kid. My health suffered for it.
I don’t blame my kids of course, I blame the modern workplace. Our corporate masters are always pushing for more productivity, constantly reducing health benefits, and modifying PTO plans to minimize costs. If there ever was a clear indication that our corporate masters don’t care for our well being, that’s it right there.
But what can a person do about it?
My solution was Financial Independence and Early Retirement. It neatly solved these problems — Instead of heading to work and suffering through the entire work day (while sick), I now stay in bed and recover.
For example, last week I had a terrible cold. Rather than push myself to get things done, I just rested. I made very little progress on my personal projects (like this website), but I don’t need to worry about things like performance evaluations anymore.
My investments will continue to generate cash whether I’m lying in bed or standing up.
Having one parent at home also makes our lives much easier when the kids are sick. One parent heads to work while the other handles the child care and doctor’s visits. No meetings need to be rescheduled, and the work stress is greatly reduced.
This is one of the biggest advantages to financial independence — it’s like a pressure release valve on the pressure cooker of life. All that pent-up stress is gone. All that pressure to perform better than others is gone too.
Vacation days can actually be used for vacation. If illness happens, we can take the time to recover properly.
Life gets to happen on your own terms when you’re financially independent.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I need to go take a nap…