I'm lucky enough to have a fairly resilient constitution, but I had to take a day off work yesterday with a feverish cold. It wasn't that bad: I wasn't confined to my bed, but although I tried to do a bit of marking it took me an unreasonable time to get through just a couple of essays. I kept falling asleep.
Anyway, it got me to thinking about those people one occasionally hears boasting that they've "Never missed a day's work in thirty years." What exactly are they boasting about? The fact that they are never ill? That no doubt reflects well on their healthy lifestyle, but to avoid illness for so long must also involve a good deal of luck. Or is that they dragged themselves into work even when they were ill? That's irresponsible rather than praiseworthy, surely.
I can only conclude that the boast lies in the assumption that most people throw sickies once in a while - but that these people never have. Is that a reasonable assumption? I threw sickies now and then when I was at school, but not since I've been in paid employment. Is that unusual?
I tried to get statistics on this, and this article looked at first as if it would provide them: however, although the headline reads "Throwing a sickie? UK Employees are Experts", it doesn't provide any evidence that the employees aren't actually sick. On the contrary, it concludes that "With the demographics of the workforce rapidly changing, as many people are now having to work far longer before they retire, companies are likely to see a greater level of sickness" - which reads to me as if it's about sickness, not sickies. I think it's an interesting confusion, though, and one that may also explain the tone of the "Never missed a day"ers.
It brings to mind what Stephen Fry said at the time of the MPs expenses scandal - that of course we all fiddle our expenses. "Speak for yourself!" was my reaction. Was that naive? Or was he unnecessarily cynical? How can one know?
- Emergent Occasions