Recently I received an e-mail from a co-worker that basically said, “Sorry you missed the meeting because you were not feeling well. I see from your Facebook page that you were not too sick to be using social media.”
While the Internet is rife with news articles and cases about people who post photos of themselves partying after having called in sick, there is a counter-side to this argument that employers, colleagues and others might take into consideration:
Status updates can be scheduled.
Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people use services such as Hootsuite and TweetDeck to pre-schedule status updates, Tweets and so forth. Often the update will be posted with a note such as “via Hootsuite”. The savvy reader will look to see if an update was posted using an automated service.
Earlier this year, I found myself in hospital for a few days, suddenly and without warning. All the while, my Facebook status and Tweets were auto-updating. No one but a few family members and close friends knew I was hooked up to an IV line in a Calgary hospital.
Social media is a mindless activity.
When I’m home sick (legitimately), I sleep, watch TV and yes, I sometimes go to my computer. In today’s digital world, that seems pretty normal, no? You’ll notice that reading wasn’t even on that list. Why? Because for me, social media takes less mental energy than reading a book. That is probably because the kind of books I read tend to have a hefty dose of educational leadership or management theory in them. Reading means I have to turn my brain on. Social media lets me unplug my brain for a while. Clicking “Like” can hardly be correlated to reading (much less writing) a strategic plan, in terms of intellectual activity.
Engaging in social media activities certainly takes less concentration and mental acuity than doing my work. My professional activity usually means my brain is in overdrive, solving problems and processing complex information, including academic, policy and research materials. Saying, “Thanks for the ReTweet” does not.
Social media helps us to feel connected.
Much of my work is online. I teach using e-learning technologies. I consult virtually. I conduct research mostly online. I can go for a week without seeing anyone outside my home.
Let’s face it, when you are sick and feeling miserable, loneliness and feelings of isolation can set in more quickly than most of us would like to admit. Signing in to Facebook or Twitter allows you to connect virtually with friends, family and others you care about — and who care about you. Loneliness subsides and feelings of being disconnected from the outside world diminish. You might even see something that makes you laugh.
Not all employees or colleagues who engage in online activities while taking a sick day are fraudulent, lazy or lying. There is a phenomenon in human resources known as “absence management” that aims to measure and track absenteeism. In some organizations, monitoring employees’ social media channels is increasingly being seen as a valid and reliable manner of assessing genuine illness. Personally, I think it’s hogwash; that is, if the person’s job involves them needing to use critical thinking skills, problem-solving abilities or higher levels of cognition. (Wait, isn’t that most jobs in the 21st century?)
When I work, I go full tilt. I usually have three or more projects on the go at any given time, working with clients in at least two different sites and possibly different countries. I’m consulting, teaching, researching, strategizing, writing or speaking. But when I get sick, I pretty much hit a full stop. I hate downtime and even more, I hate not being there for my students or clients.
There will always be employees who try to abuse the goodwill of their employers, but as we move more and more into the digital world, we still need to put caring for one another as human beings first.
When you see some one online engaging in social media activities when they have called in sick, take a deep breath before assuming they are simply skipping out of work, shirking their commitments or otherwise “crying wolf”. You might even offer a supportive comment, ask if there is anything they need or just say hello and let them know that you are thinking about them.
Consider this: Being hooked up to an IV doesn’t prevent you from hitting the “Like” button on your iPad.
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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!
Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.