If you work in the UK, theres a good chance you’ve never heard of an ‘unsick day’ or even contemplated that it could be an actual thing. Sounds a bit weird, doesn’t it? Let’s have a poke around and see what’s going on.
When we were talking to social media experts Buffer about how they manage absence, it came up that as well as keeping an eye on how much annual leave people took, they also used Timetastic to track 'unsick days' — the first we'd heard of it.
A day off for your own health
The unsick day is a US-based initiative. Indeed the dedicated unsick day website features the strapline “a day off for America’s health” before telling us a bit about what the unsick day actually is:
“…a day off to visit the doctor when you aren’t sick. Take care of the important appointments that are easy to put off, like physicals and teeth cleanings, all with your company’s support. A healthier you means a healthier workplace. Everybody wins.”
If everybody wins, why aren’t we all having an unsick day? A lot of this is down to the quirks of the US healthcare system and health insurance policies which include preventative (or ‘preventive’ as they call it in the states) checkups.
Imagine calling your doctor’s surgery in the UK to book an appointment when you weren't sick. You’d either be laughed at, shown the door rather quickly, or both. But do we have something to learn from how they do things across the pond?
Adding life to the work-life balance
They do seem to have a work-life imbalance, which is something many of us can relate to. The unsick day site expands:
“In today’s workplace, employees rarely leave their desks for lunch, let alone to visit the doctor."
It continues: "This is especially true when it comes to preventive care. According to a recent Zocdoc/Kelton Global survey, 60% of American workers feel uncomfortable leaving work for preventive care appointments.”
How did the Buffer team get on with the unsick day?
As one of its founding partners, you’d think it did pretty well. In an October 2016 blog post they announced its introduction, adding they hoped it would “empower all of us to get the care we need to stay healthy”.
It was initially well received and 78% of respondents to an internal survey said they had not taken any time out from work to see a doctor for preventative care in the past year – showing the scheme could make a considerable impact. Staff indicated a strong interest in using the unsick day as soon as it was launched.
These days, things are a bit different and not necessarily for the worse. Buffer’s Head of PR Hailley Griffis said they don't do much with the unsick day and more because:
“...we are so flexible with vacation policies that it isn't a struggle for our teammates to take time off for appointments."
Could the unsick day work in the UK?
Given the more reactive nature of healthcare in the UK, you have to wonder what our own version might be like. With greater attention being paid to mental health in the workplace (there’s still a long way to go, mind) perhaps a mental health day would be worthwhile, enabling people to attend appointments or do some activities that would help with their wellbeing.
Alternatively, if you’re the kind of person who is consistently time-poor and exhausted due to the demands of your life, you might jump at the chance to have a glorious day of simply nothing.
Whatever our own needs might be, it’s clear the unsick day is a force for good in the US and in our book any effort to prise people away from their desks to take some of the strain out of a pressured work-life balance is worthy of celebration.
For more info on the ins and outs of the unsick day scheme, have a look at the unsick day site’s FAQ section.