One of the few downsides of working for Purple Systems is the lack of sick days. The policy manual says that there is no official number of sick days and to stay home if we’re sick. That’s all well and good, but it also says if you haven’t been working enough extra hours to flex the time off, you need to make up those hours. That guidance, coupled with the emails reporting everyone’s hours each week to the whole department, has led people to feel pressure to either not take sick days or come back too soon or hinder their recovery by trying to work extra long days immediately after returning from a sick day. I’ve done it myself, come in and worked at less than full power rather than stay home and rest because I didn’t want to be in the slacker category in the email (easy enough to identify that group, as their hours for the week are highlighted in red text). When the company was very small and we were mostly aware of everyone else’s situations and work habits, I felt more able to take time off when I needed it, because I knew people knew I wasn’t slacking off overall. Now there are folks on the email I don’t know at all, and people getting the email that don’t have a clue what’s up with me, either. I’m imagining they saw the 6.4 hours per day average I did two weeks ago when I stayed home with the sinus crud for a day and thought “look at that team lead coasting”.
This environment led sick days to be one of the concerns noted again and again on the annual employee survey. A task force was formed to address this and other benefit issues, which I took as a positive sign. At the quarterly company meeting this past summer, that task force reported back that the company was going to an Unlimited PTO policy. I think the task force thought there would be much rejoicing. There was not. Never mind that PTO (for “paid time off”) came off as unnecessary “corporate speak”, the announcement was made without any details about how it would work in practice or when it would become effective. This left the field wide open for speculation. Why not just establish a sick day policy? The existing vacation policy wasn’t a source of complaint, so why mess with it? What about folks (like me) who had negotiated for more vacation time at the expense of taking a lower base salary? Surely there would be limits—we can’t all not come to work for weeks on end—so why not be clear about what they were? One of the arguments for not having a sick day policy in the past had been that some people would abuse it (to which I always answered “so deal with those few people when it happens”), and it seemed like this new policy didn’t solve that problem at all. The consensus that emerged in this information vacuum was that hard working and responsible folks would be less likely to take time off (since there’s always more work to do and the hours nanny email wasn’t going away as far as we knew). The less responsible people would benefit from being able to take even more time off, testing the limits of how much they could get away with before getting put on notice.
Being creatures of the Internet, we of course went a-Googling, finding articles like this one about Virgin’s policy, which included non-reassuring phrases like employees “…could take holiday without first seeking permission or having to keep track of the number of days they were taking off. As long, that is, as they felt ‘100 percent comfortable’ that they were up to date with their work and their absence would not affect the business or their careers.” To that I say “ha”. The last time I recall feeling 100% comfortable I was caught up with my work was sometime in 1999. My boss’s boss has said many times that one of the ways he tells if someone is a valuable contributor is if he notices when they go on vacation, basically that their absence does affect the business. Something’s got to give there.
And here we are, going on five months later, and we still don’t have details on how this will work, including whether there’ll be a formal approval process or how we’ll log time off. We do have some reassurances in the internal community website from execs who say there is no conspiracy, that this new policy is not intended to get people to take less vacation. We shall see.
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