Matt Heath: The case for zero sick day workplaces

Publish Date
Monday, 6 August 2018, 9:05AM

New Zealanders are being afforded more and more paid days off work.

But on my team, we are going the opposite way. We don't allow any sick days at all, no matter what. Five years ago we made the "no sick days" pact and we have stuck to it. Four dudes, 1250 work days and no time off for illness.

I couldn't recommend the system more.

e have no superpowers. We all get sick. Very sick. I'm sick now. My bones are cold and achy. There's a pillow wedged in my sinus. My glands are massive. (Does anyone else get a really sensitive downstairs when they get the sick? If not I won't mention it).

I'm delirious and confused all the time. Right now I have little idea where I am or what I am doing. I'm not even the sickest in the team.

But we are still at work. I'm working right now. Here for my co-workers. For my listeners. For my family. For you. For the pact. Before you enforce a zero sick day policy in your workplace you need to work out the exceptions.

There are illnesses and accidents and conditions so big that they transcend any pact.

Obviously, if someone dies, nearly dies or gets a migraine they are exempt. Life-threatening stuff gets you time off too. Meningitis would probably get you a hall pass, as would severe Ebola or rabies.

But everyone should work through your colds, coughs, bone breaks, dislocations and diarrhoea fits. Your rashes, fungal infections, ingrown toenails, emotional problems and foreign accent syndromes. Androgenetic alopecia, pediculosis pubis, dental surgery and hangovers.

One of our team members is running nearly all of the above as we speak. But he's not taking sick days. He's soldiering on. I won't use his name out of respect for his family. But I can tell you he's hosting mornings on Radio Hauraki with me then Seven Sharp at night with Hilary Barry. It's heroic stuff.

Most Kiwis would never take a hangover day. It's morally wrong. You did it to yourself so you have to suck it up.

Yet there are few everyday illnesses that feel as bad as hangovers do. The tiredness, the headache, the absentmindedness, the anxiety, the demons, the hunger. If you can work through a hangover you can work through a cold.

In fact, a great way to deal with common illness is to imagine it's just a bad hangover. In many ways, a cold is like a snotty day after with no guilt attached.

I got hit by a car the other day. It was really painful. I was pretty smashed up. But I still got into work using this hangover comparison technique.

I simply compared my injuries to how I felt the morning after last year's Christmas party. Suddenly limping and bleeding my way into work didn't seem so bad.

Some people drink to get through cold and flu. Here's the logic. If you're sick and then you have a few drinks. How can you tell the next day what's making you feel bad? The illness or the hangover.

Maybe the illness has passed overnight. If there is a chance it's now just a hangover. Sweet. Go to work.

Interestingly some people believe a high blood alcohol level will cure a cold. This is almost certainly not true. To completely sterilise your blood you would have to drink yourself to death. Which would defeat the purpose.

The elephant in the room is of course contagion.

It's often said going to work when you are sick isn't virtuous. It's selfish as it spreads what you got. That you actually do more harm than good by turning up.

Of course, if you're really worried about that, you could wear one of those humiliating face masks.

Only time will tell if more New Zealanders form "no sick day" pacts. But I can tell you it has worked for us.

Well so far anyway.

I should probably head down to A&E soon.

This article was first published on and is republished here with permission.