Fact of Life: people get sick.

My husband has been sick for about three days now, and as happens with most of us, he’s sick enough to feel pretty miserable, but not sick enough to go to the doctor. He knows it’s just a really nasty bug that will run its course. All he needs to do is drink more fluids, get some extra sleep and a lot more rest.

But he’s not. Like most of us, he keeps going to work anyway.

He barely makes it through the day, and he’s getting worse: whatever bug he has is winning the battle. When he gets home he takes a shower, then passes out until he has to go back to work. My son and I have barely talked to him or even realized he’s home these past three days.

I keep asking him to stay home from work, and I give him the good old guilt trip about getting everyone else there sick, but he has the same arguments I’ve heard from him before, and we have the same conversation.

“I won’t get paid unless I’m out for two days or more and come back with a doctor’s note: and I’m not going to the doctor for the flu.”

“Well one day’s pay, or a couple day’s pay won’t put us in the poor house: just give it up and stay home until you get better.”

“I can’t do that either. If I stay out and don’t come back with a doctor’s note I’ll get written up.”

“Well, you might as well call in and go to the doctor then, because at this rate you will be sick enough to see him.”

“Nah, I can do this. Don’t worry about it. It’s my job, and my responsibility to get it done.”

Well, he can’t. The over-the-counter stuff he was taking stopped helping, so he took too much today, got too dizzy to drive home and called me to come get him.

One of the other guys that works for him finally felt so sorry for him that he volunteered to work his shift tomorrow so he could take the day off. They both signed some paperwork; my husband signed something to verify he gave up his shift voluntarily, and his co-worker signed something else waiving his rights to overtime.

This scenario plays out all over Hawaii. The system is broken, and we have lost all remnants of common sense.

If Malama is missing with something as simple as sick leave, you’ve got to wonder where else it’s missing.

To Malama, is to take care of.
A manager is a steward of assets and a caretaker of people.
Malama calls upon us to serve, to honor, and to protect.
Acts of caring drive us to high performance levels in our work with others. We give and become unselfish. We accept responsibility unconditionally.
Malama is warm, and Malama is personal. It comes from heart, and it comes from soul.
When we Malama, we are better.
—The introduction to chapter 15 of Managing with Aloha
on the Hawaiian value of Malama.


  1. says

    Rosa, I truly feel for your husband – and you.
    Among the things that are so deeply saddening is the mechanistic nature of your husband’s workplace. Just like a machine, the parts shouldn’t break down. I’ve also worked in organizations that don’t trust their parts. If you are sick for more than three days, you’re either sick or taking advantage of the company. Better bring in a note so we can believe you.
    It’s also saddening to hear your husband’s beliefs about his own self. And not that I blame him. Our culture in the United States rewards and lionizes those individuals who lay it all out for the organization – even when it is to their own physical, emotional, and spiritual detriment.
    Sorry, I don’t have easy answers to the issue. One is that your husband could find a workplace that values him as a person, not as a cog in a machine. Yet, not knowing him or the company he works for, this seems like a glib response. Besides, knowing you through your blog, I imagine you’ve already been working this angle.
    My best to your husband and you. Be well.

  2. says

    Aloha Christopher,
    Well you’ve certainly made me feel great, for it’s always wonderful to meet someone new commenting on Talking Story, and I do appreciate your stopping by!
    You are most kind, mahalo, and Ker (my husband) already does seem to feel much better as I write this: it is amazing how quickly you can heal when you have that sense of relief, for after today he was due his normal two days off.
    In Ker’s particular case he loves his job, and he’s been there, in the same job for 15 years now. He’s “entitled” to 7 or 10 days of sick leave per year; can’t remember because he doesn’t use it due to the hassle and attitude that you cite. The issue (in his company at least) is that there may be good people who do trust each other, and they feel badly for each other, but they just don’t buck the system and try to improve it, even though they all would agree it’s flawed.
    You are absolutely right: it’s too mechanical. Sick leave is one of those “benefits” that is such a sacred cow in most companies it’s just not reviewed regularly enough. Often it is entrenched in union negotiations and medical premiums, and so people think, “let’s leave well enough alone,” but that’s not good enough.
    Ker will be fine, however there are so many who go through this same thing. So my hope with this post is that we who can make a difference, wake up to it, and do.
    Mahalo nui for your comment, it is good to meet you. Rosa