What’s So Perfect about Perfect Attendance? 7

I’ve always found it amazing when I read about someone who has perfect attendance.  I am truly fascinated about the employees I’ve seen receive awards for perfect attendance.  It’s not so much how they do it that baffles me.  It’s why they would do it.

When I worked at Boston City Hospital, a lovely man on the maintenance staff was given an award for 35 years of perfect attendance. In the midst of my clapping for this achievement, I found myself going, “Hmmmm.”   I recently read in a letter to the editors of a health magazine that a group of women had walked for more than 10 years, rain or shine, without fail.  Hats off to them, I thought, and then I thought, “Hmmmm – something ain’t right.”

I can’t imagine living a life that would adhere to such unending devotion, discipline, perfection to a job – especially today, when institutions and companies, public and private, will eliminate your job in a quick minute.

Do these people not take time off to have a mental health day? 
Do they never need/choose to attend a field trip with a child? 
Don’t they ever decide not to struggle to work in a snow storm? 

Having perfect attendance surely means they’ve come to work sick and spread their germs around to others (that would include me).

While working at Boston City Hospital, I witnessed the first round of lay-offs in a series that happened wehn BCH merged with University Hospital to become Boston Medical Center.  We all know what mergers mean.  Somebody’s going to lose their livelihood.  During these lay-offs and others that I have witnessed, it turns out, that an employee’s attendance and performance had nothing to do with whether they would get the axe or not.  People were eliminated because of “redundancy.”  (I hate the sound of that word!  It sounds like something that should be said of things not people!) Job categories were eliminated.  Departments were seen to be doing duplicative work and so were consolidated. 

For many of the people who had toiled for years with perfect and near-perfect attendance, there was an aura of incredulity about them when they received their pink slips.  “But I never missed work,” lamented one housekeeper.  She was laid off as swiftly as co-workers who used each and everyone of their sick days annually.

At another job, management eliminated the ability of workers to carry over unused sick and vacation time.  What an uproar that caused!  A lot of people didn’t know what to do with all of the vacation time they had to take before the fiscal year ended.  Management giveth and management taketh away.

I’ve only had one job where I had perfect attendance for a full-year.  It had to do with the date I was hired. I had to work a full year before I earned vacation days.  Having two young children at that time, I saved my sick days for when they were sick.  I was able to talk myself out of colds and ignored severe cramps and heavy bleeding that year. (Working from home was not an option then.)  My children didn’t get sick that year.  So, there I was, at work the day after-Thanksgiving.  I was the newest person at the organization and no one but me was there. (Some had pre-arranged to take time off.  Others called in sick.)  The phone only rang once, when my supervisor called in, ostensibly to ask me to water her plants, but really to check to see if I had, indeed, come into the office like I was ‘sposed to.  I had, and I went right back to reading my novel after our call was finished. (The nerve of her to check up on me!)

I see no virtue in having perfect attendance unless one is doing it as a personal challenge or goal.  It seems to me that there is a cost to our denial of occasional pleasures, opportunities, and responsibilities to say nothing of the lack of imagination it shows (in my opinion).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a slacker at work and in my last job often worked long hours and always worked weekends.  But I’ve learned that time is a finite resource and making time to take a vacation (even if you’re only staying and exploring the city in which you live); taking a day off to stay in your pajamas and read, watch DVDs, or make good love; surprising your children by being home with them or being there when they get home from school; or any number of other inventive, soul-lifting things you might do once-in-a-while to celebrate life and ignore the grind is something that people should do even if its but once a year.  How about taking a day off for something as simple as celebrating your birthday?*

I know this sounds judgmental and it is.  It’s not my business how people live their lives but this is my bloggy and I use it to say things that are on my mind – grand and small. I said it at the beginning and I’ll say it again: There’s nothing so perfect about perfect attendance in my opinion.  Don’t get me started about those who show up every day and do nary a bit of actual work or only the tiniest bit to stay employed.

*Especially if your religion doesn’t denounce birthday celebrations.

About Candelaria Silva

Candelaria Silva-Collins is a marketing, community outreach and programming consultant; writer; and trainer/facilitator who lives in Boston, Massachusetts. She has designed and facilitated workshops on a wide variety of topics including communication, facilitation, job search skills, team building, and parenting issues. She currently coordinates the Community Membership Program of the Huntington Theatre Company. Her work as Director of ACT Roxbury was profiled in several publications, including The Creative Communities Builders Handbook. Candelaria’s children’s stories, short stories, essays and reviews have been published in local and national publications and she is an active blogger. Her publications include the booklets, Handling Rejection; Pushing through Shyness: Networking Tips when You’re Shy, Slow to Warm Up or Just don’t Feel you Belong; and Real Questions about Sex & Relationships for Teens: A Discussion Guide for Parents. She has served on the boards of Goddard College, Wheelock Family Theatre, Boston Foundation for Architecture, and Discover Roxbury. She is currently Chair, Designators of the Henderson Foundation.

7 thoughts on “What’s So Perfect about Perfect Attendance?

  • Jim

    Many Europeans have had a handle on this sort of thing for a long time and are roundly scorned by American workaholics who value productivity above all else even when the “product” is a pace and quality of life that puts savoring and reflection last. This year, let’s pretend to be France, take August off, lock up the country, not even turn on the answering machine, leave the cell phone in a closet somewhere.

  • Candelaria

    I’ve not been to Europe myself but I’ve read that those Europeans know how to live. I’m trying to live a bit more in the “European” and tropical way myself.

  • seussgirl

    I always figure my sick days were there for me to use, so in the end, I did! i never even had perfect attendance in school, and it’s not like it hurt me!

  • Kim

    I hated it when people came to work sick just to have perfect attendance. It also follows when people send their sick kids to school! Ugh! NCLM

  • Busted

    I never got this either – even in elementary school. Why are you rewarding kids for not getting sick (or coming to school when sick)? Is that such a great accomplishment?

  • Susan

    I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s quality, not quantity. Besides, it’s always fun to play hooky every once in a while :)


  • Heather J

    I think it stems from the “perfect attendance” awards that schools encourage. That and the workaholic thing. Of course, I realize that the other commentors already said this. But I completely agree. I take off whenever I’m able, even though I love my job. For years my husband and I didn’t take vacations (for financial reasons – it’s VERY hard living on 1 paycheck) and we really missed that relaxing time together. Now we vacation whenever we can, and I take off to spend time with my son at every opportunity.

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