The honest sick notes you wish you could write to your boss

"Dear Boss, you are completely inflexible. Now so am I."

"Dear Boss, you are completely inflexible. Now so am I."

Dear employer,

Your employee will be unfit for work for the next five days because based on her report, you are an insane slavedriver with no boundaries.

Kind regards,

A dependable GP

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This might be the honest 'sick note' you wish your doctor would write, but chances are you will never read that on a medical certificate.

Instead, you'll just get "unfit for work".

That's what the regulation sick note looks like these days – keeps the patient's privacy but, complete with the authentic medical stamp, reassures your employer that you really can't work.

And it covers a range of illnesses – from roiling guts to blinding headaches, from aches to pains.

But what if you could write the sick notes you really wanted your doctor to write?

Some examples.

Dear Boss, I am taking today off work because my immediate manager terrifies me. It actually makes me panic when I think I have to be alone in a room with him. Maybe you could take today's planned one-on-one today instead.

Or, Dear Boss, I am completely exhausted. You know I only work part-time but you expect me to complete 35 hours worth of work when you only pay me for 21 hours. You know why I work part-time? Two kids under three.  I'm reclaiming all the unpaid overtime starting today.

Or even, Dear Boss, you are completely inflexible. Now so am I. So inflexible my shoulder has frozen. See you in two weeks after daily physio sessions. Maybe you could come too. We could do yoga together.

Unsurprisingly, Sachin Patel says it's pretty unlikely he'd write a medical certificate based on a patient hating her job and needing time away. He says he'd be much more inclined to counsel the patient to try to see someone in human resources or to find other ways to deal with the problem at work.

"They have to have a plan to move forward with . . . we want people to be engaged with their work and not stressed by it.

"If you are so stressed you can't face you work, it will affect your functioning."

Patel, a general practitioner, is the founder of Dr Sicknote, a new online consultation service which provides medical certificates without needing to visit the doctor. Kind of. You still have to answer all the usual medical questions. You still have a video face-to-face so the GP can actually eyeball you. But you don't have to spend time getting to and from the doctor when you are a complete wreck. The demand has been huge. At its launch, it received the usual predictable criticism from employer groups that it would just be a way to exploit the system; and that patients would use it to game the system. But Patel's responses around workplace health are solid.

The fact is that the majority of Australians don't take much sick leave – despite the endless whingeing from employers. Research published earlier this year by Peter Caputi and Christopher Magee reports that in a sample of just under 2500 Australians, only eight per cent took around 11 days of sick leave a year. Nearly 60 per cent of us take two days or fewer.

And those of us who take more sick leave do so because they are actually sick.

We decide not to take sick leave for lots of reasons – we think we are indispensible; we fear using up our leave; we think we should save it for when we are really really sick (although that sneezy thing you do all over the office? That makes the rest of us really really sick.) We've got this other illness called presenteeism, where we think we have to be present.

Anthony LaMontagne, professor of work, health and wellbeing at Deakin University, says that around one-quarter of Australians are in jobs which actually make them sick. That's not quite the kind of language he would use but what he means is that we are in work where we have high demands by our employers but low control – that's called job strain. Someone else makes decisions about how we do our job. And that's the kind of work which doubles the risk of depression. Around 15 per cent of us are depressed because of the kind of work we do.

"We know job strain is a strong risk factor for depression and it's largely preventable," he says. "This is why workplace mental health needs to take working conditions more seriously.  There's been a positive shift in workplaces towards recognising and accommodating mental illness just like we do physical illness, but this only addresses the reactive part of the story.  We need to be proactive too, by providing good quality jobs that are safe for psychological health."

As he puts it, "Good quality jobs are good for health."

 

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