Il faut faire le grève

If we want a decent work-life balance decent life, we need to be French

If blue-collar women making barely enough money to pay their bills can challenge The Boss, so can the rest of us. Source

I read a great piece by Anne Helen Petersen (here) about how we shouldn’t go to work sick.

The author is not talking to people who must be physically present for their jobs. They often don’t have a choice. They don’t work, they don’t get paid.

Instead, she is talking to those of us privileged enough to be able to work from home. We CAN work when we’re sick (or when we’re on vacation) and so many of us do.


But – many of us fear for our jobs. (Reasonable, I know – I have been laid off twice, although I think one of those was actually a firing, but that VP got fired herself two months ago so karma.)

And we know that the work will not go away. It will just pile up and wait for us.



Nothing will change until we change what we are doing.

In the Before Times, I was sitting in a conference room, scrolling through the news and waiting for a meeting to start.

“Oh wow!” I said to a co-worker. “The Teamsters just led a successful shareholder revolt – they’re on the board at McKesson – and got the CEO pay CUT!”

“They’re just jealous,” my co-worker answered.

I was so shocked at his response that I didn’t even know what to say.

I thought of the proper answer at about 2 a.m. that night.

My co-worker thinks we’re management. But we’re not. We’re labor.

It took me a long time to realize that, too, so I can’t be upset that he was so ignorant.

But – we are labor. We are not the people who get the golden parachutes. We are not the people who get the huge bonuses. We are not the people who are protected financially.

I might not be on the factory floor, but I am still subject to the whims of the boss and will be – have been – one of the first ones cut to preserve the CEO’s bonus.

I am labor.

A friend’s company allowed employees to travel business class if they were flying from the US to Asia.

So my friend, Rob, flew business class on his work trip to Asia.

When he returned, his boss was cranky.

“Would you spend your own money to fly business class?” the boss asked.

No, my friend thought, but I’ll spend someone else’s money on it. If I didn’t want my employees to spend my money on business class, then I would make it the policy that they had to fly coach.

Remember the awful boss who laid me off/fired me then got fired herself?

She waited until after I had taken a work trip and expensed in-flight internet to tell me she wouldn’t approve it.

(Even though my previous boss had always approved it.)

She said I was probably goofing off.

  1. I wasn’t goofing off; I was working.
  2. Even if I were goofing off, I was stuck in a middle seat in coach after having spent three days on a work trip, getting up at the crack of dawn to work, going to meetings all day, then working after the meetings doing my JOB. If I wanted to spend $40 to goof off – is that so bad?
  3. Even if I were goofing off, the time to tell employees that the policy has changed is before you implement the change, not after.

Anne Helen Peterson (read the whole thing) says we need to “refuse to be a scab” and to take our time off as an “act of solidarity.”

In addition, we need to take our time off to force companies to staff appropriately. Everyone who checks email during vacation and spends the first night of their honeymoon in the lobby of the hotel working until 4 a.m. because “this project has to be done and I’m the only one who knows the details” perpetuates the current culture of overwork in the US.

I get it that you’re worried things will fall through the cracks. I get it that you don’t have a backup.

But it is not your job to figure out your own backup. You’re not a teenager working at the mall, wanting to switch shifts with someone.

It’s not your job to make sure that work gets done while you’re on vacation or out sick.

That is your company’s job.

But when you work anyhow, you let the company off the hook.

“See?” they say. “We don’t need to hire more people! The work is getting done with the people we have! OUR SYSTEM WORKS!”

Take your time off. Take it. If not for you, for your children. You’re not even risking being shot or blackballed.

All you’re doing is taking time off that is due to you.

This is your act of solidarity.

2 thoughts on “Il faut faire le grève

  1. Yep. But: the culture is what really needs to be changed. When I worked in England, my boss actually *did not want to know* why I was taking sick time, not TMI-iwise but just “we do not want to ever normalize needing to excuse sick time to your boss” and I was… surprised. Very positively surprised! But it takes both workers normalizing things and all the layers up from there normalizing things to make really solid change, not workers refusing to step across a line but the management continually looking for a chance to yank them over the line.

    Companies that treat workers well get *better work out of me* and I think the US system is really shooting itself in the foot in so, so, so many ways. It is less expensive to have things fully covered than to have things fall short and have to be patched; it is more expensive to have consultants come in to “improve morale” than to have full job coverage and pay your employees and give them time off *AND* the latter also works a whole lot better; it is less expensive for your company if an employee stays home when sick and doesn’t get your other employees sick; it goes on. I understand some companies work with the “burn through them and then replace them” model, but outside of Amazon shipping floors, even that model is usually more expensive than proper maintenance is – and it may be more expensive on Amazon shipping floors as well, I don’t know. But training, institutional knowledge, an awareness of what to do in the rare cases, knowing the other employees well so you can support each other: you simply can’t zap all that into place even if you hire someone who has had “equivalent experience” elsewhere.


    1. I completely agree. But no place I have ever worked has seemed to quantify the value of institutional knowledge and training – they look just at payroll. I’ve now worked in two places where they have re-hired someone they laid off after discovering that whoops! nobody else knows how to do the critical thing that the laid-off person did!


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