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The Call You Hate to Make

June 04, 1993|JOEL GARREAU

The guilt you feel when you call in sick has not been adequately researched, said John Schappi, author of "Improving Job Attendance."

Why do people hate calling in sick themselves? Why do they have their spouse do it for them? Why is voice mail the greatest thing that ever happened to calling in sick? Why is calling in sick such a dreaded task that you immediately feel physically better the second you hang up the phone?

"Actually, those are the good employees, the ones with the Puritan work ethic. They're feeling guilty," said Melvin Lipsett, a psychiatrist who specializes in mental illnesses of the workplace. "A malingerer would not feel any trepidation about calling in sick. They feel they're entitled. They can rationalize it that, 'Well, I've worked hard, I need a vacation day, I'll call in sick.' "

The skill of the manager who handles sick calls also plays a large role.

"I don't abuse sick days. My conscience doesn't allow me. But I don't feel like explaining in detail every little aspect of my illness. I prefer to talk to the machine, give a brief explanation of my illness and call back later," said Richard Gould, 24, a revenue attendant who services ticket-vending machines for Washington's transit system.

Schappi concludes: "Studies indicate that employees in smaller work groups tend to have less absenteeism. It could be that they have greater job satisfaction. But it's also increased peer pressure. If you know that your absence really affects the group, you may think twice about calling in sick when you really don't have to."

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