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Sick Leaves are Your Right, Don't Feel Guilty Taking Them

Even if cash conversion by year-end can be tempting.
by Pia Regalado
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Photo/s: Jerome Ascaño

Bing, a beauty store supervisor, powered through a 14-hour shift with severe menstrual cramps, forgoing her legal right to a sick leave because she feels guilty leaving her team shortstaffed on a busy shopping day.

She dropped the idea of taking a half day off, choosing instead to cash in her sick days at the end of the year. That day, like many hard workers, Bing chose duty and extra money over her health.

READ: Workation Guide: How to Work and Rest at the Same Time

“First few hours okay pa ako pero nung time na nasa mind ko na dapat nakauwi na ako tapos 'di na ako nakakauwi, nag-iiba na state ng mind ko. Gusto ko na umiyak. Wish ko sana may magsusundo sa akin kasi ang hirap ng biyahe ko," she told reportr.

High job demands and presenteeism, or employees dragging themselves to work despite low productivity, are some of the reasons why 71% of employees in the Philippines choose not to take a sick leave despite feeling unwell, according to a May 2022 study by analytics company Milieu.

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While Filipinos are known to be resilient, powering through any sickness -- physical or mental -- can hinder productivity and can adversely affect their career in the long run, said HR practitioner and psychologist Jojo Tandoc.

Why employees refuse to take sick leaves

A sick leave is a paid benefit that allows employees to take time off for their health. This encourages them to recuperate at home while avoiding the spread of illness in the workplace.

In Southeast Asia, "too much work to do" (51%) is the top reason why workers choose not to take sick leaves, followed by "felt bad about missing work" (36%) and "worried I'd miss out on important decisions or opportunities" (31%).

In the Philippines, companies offer converting leaves into cash, which for Tandoc could be one of the biggest factors as to why sick employees force themselves to show up at work. For employees, mid-year leave conversions are for children's tuition while year-end cashouts are for Christmas and New Year celebrations, said Tandoc.

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"Even if they are unwell, they would prefer going to work dahil ang mentality ng Pinoy, 'sayang, kaya ko naman magtrabaho e so papasok ako kasi malapit na 'yung conversion ng leaves. Sayang 'yung makukuha kong pera from my leaves because naka-budget na ito,'" said Tandoc.

"Ang empleyado, sasabihin, 'sayang sick leave ko, papasok ako, kaya ko naman, sipon lang naman ito.' Ang mga Pinoy kasi, very resilient. Imortal," he told reportr.

This also goes for mentally absent employees. Television journalist Phil (not his real name) said he forces himself to work on days he feels depressed. How will he explain to his boss that it's not because of a "legit" physical illness?

"May times kasi na 'di ka ganado mag-work or feeling depressed, parang wala kang gana pero I still decide to work kasi I was preparing to leave for a legitimate reason like vacation leave and I felt na I didn't want na magpatong sila, back to back, so sige ipasok ko na. Usually naman nararaos," he told reportr.

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According to the Milieu survey, 65% of employees in the Philippines said workers should be allowed to take sick leaves when they feel mentally checked out from work.

ALSO READ: Boss, I'm So Tired. Can I Take a Mental Health Break?

Presenteeism culture which forces flu-stricken or even burnt out employees to show up at work despite being unable to fully function can lead to diminished work productivity, said Tandoc.

For the HR manager, sick employees who believe they can power through despite their illness, be it physical or psychological, can always talk to their bosses regarding flexible work arrangements so they can still submit their output while feeling under the weather, Tandoc said.

Why you should use your sick leaves

You're only human

Employers offer sick leaves mainly for two reasons: it makes for an attractive job offer and HR knows that eventually, employees will need it, said Tandoc.

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"Wala namang taong 'di nagkakasakit," he said.

Your body needs to heal

An ailing body needs time to recuperate and forcing to work despite feeling unwell can prolong the illness. "Mas nagre-reduce ito ng productivity n'ya in the long run," said Tandoc.

The same goes for those struggling with mental health issues.

"Mas lalong napo-prolong ang sakit nila and it will cause more damage to their mental health to a point na mahihirapan sila maghanap ng trabaho kasi lalabas na underperforming sila," he said.

You're putting others at risk

While workers can easily dismiss cough or colds and still report to work, they can infect other employees and risk an outbreak in the workplace, said Tandoc.

You need to seek professional help

Seeking professional help, whether going to a family doctor or consulting with a therapist, lowers the risk of misdiagnosing illnesses. By doing so, employees can avoid delaying treatment, said Tandoc.

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Employees who will file for sick leave might also need to show their employers a doctor's note as proof that they need to avail their sick leaves, he said.

"Workers have to develop their ability to communicate assertively to their bosses, to communicate their issues, mental health issues or physical health issues para maintindihan ng boss kasi 'pag 'di natin sinasabi, tinatago rin nila, mahihirapan tayo."

Employees, do not set aside health for work, said Tandoc.

"We're talking about life here. 'Yung trabaho madaling hanapin, ang pera madaling palitan. 'Yung buhay, hindi, isa lang 'yun... We only have one life. Do not set it aside."

Jojo Tandoc has more than 20 years of experience as human resources professional and is a practicing industrial organizational psychologist for a decade. He also has a doctorate in business administration and is a licensed consultant at GrayMatters Psychological and Consultancy. Visit this page for his services. 

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