Don’t Work When You’re Sick

When you’re sick, you are working with less than your full physical and mental capacity. And because you’re sick, you’re not always a great judge of exactly how far below your full capacity you’re actually working.

I happen to strongly agree with this advice, and would add work when you’re sleep-deprived to the list of don’ts.

Meanwhile, in Japan…

就職した友達が研修で「体調不良でも会社のために出勤しないといけない時はある。熱なんて計るから風邪になるんだ、熱さえ測らなければ風邪かわからないから出勤できる。体温計は捨てなさい」という旨のガイダンスを受けたらしく早くも目が濁り[sic]始めてた

At training for friend’s employer, [friend] was given something to the effect of this guidance: “There will be times you must come to work even when you’re not feeling well. If you don’t take your temperature you won’t know how much of a cold you have, and you can come to work. Throw away your thermometers”, [friend] has already fallen under their influence (lit: eyes have become clouded)

(Tweet reference via: RocketNews24, translation and bolding mine)

My experience in Japan has been: if you don’t have a fever, you’re not sick. Nope, snot running down your face, hacking up your lungs, dizziness, double vision are all signs of your moral failings and lack of gaman (我慢; endurance, stick-to-itiveness). You’re not really sick unless you’ve got a fever. Not just any fever; less than 38ºC (100.4ºF) will be semi-derisively labeled a low-grade fever (binetsu 微熱) with an undercurrent of “quit bitching and get back to work, you pussy”. Explosive diarrhea is a close second to a high fever in the “eh, I guess you could take time off if you can’t hack it, slacker” sweepstakes.

People regularly come to work sick, usually wearing face masks, which is thought to help block some transmission vectors (though even Japanese sources say they don’t really help). Face masks do nothing to protect against contracting a cold, and do absolutely nothing about the frequency with which people wash their hands, which is the main way most infectious agents are spread.[1]

From friends reports of their experiences at private companies as well as my own experiences, nobody really gives a flying bukkake session about your productivity, accuracy, or anything else. Your ass better be in your seat during the appointed hours or you will face social and workplace consequences. Hell, I’ve seen people sleeping at their desks in the middle of the day. No one gives them shit. But better believe they’ll get stink-eyed if they show up 30 seconds late to the morning meeting.

In my early jobs, I was required to show proof that I went to a clinic to see a doctor in order to take sick leave, as opposed to mandatory use of my regular leave (i.e.: “vacation” time). Leave (kyûka 休暇) was considered a general pool of time that was also used if I was late for any reason — including the time I got hit by a car while biking to work — or had to take time off for banking,[2] sending letters or getting money orders from the post office, etc. There was no separate sick leave.

Things have gotten slightly more lax in the intervening years, but in general being sick with anything that doesn’t require hospitalization isn’t much of an excuse, so everyone comes to work sick. A lot.

The one exception is influenza, which is determined via a lab test by the doctor, not just your say-so. Kids are not allowed to come to school if an influenza test comes back positive, and even more hard-assed companies will tell you to stay home.

Japanese are positively paranoid about flu epidemics, probably because Japanese mortality rates are much higher than US populations. In the 2009 outbreak, they actually quarantined people entering Japan from overseas and shut down schools due to an estimated 3/4 of a million people being infected. There were enough people being treated that it put a strain on medical resources and personnel.

So, yeah, they take that shit seriously. Moral of the story: want some time off in Japan? Get the flu. Otherwise, come to #^¢*ing work.


  1. Judging from my restroom visits (and those of others) very, very few guys wash after pooping. Even when someone [me] was audibly in the next stall and could hear them walk straight out afterward. Ironically, Japanese kids are absolutely drilled in basic hygiene like handwashing and toothbrushing, so maybe this is a sign of adult rebellion.

    And on an undoubtedly completely unrelated note, I’d never even heard of norovirus, much less been infected, until I came to Japan. Can we get a whoop-whoop for absurdly crowded living conditions and shitty hands?!  ↩


  2. Bank hours in Japan used to be 09:00–15:00 (9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.) almost everywhere, even in big cities in the early 2000s when I first got here. ATMs used to close, and be locked inside alarmed fortified anterooms, at 18:00 (6:00 p.m.). There was very little inter-bank cooperation, so you had to find an ATM from your bank even to withdraw money. If you weren’t married or living with your parents, you basically had to take time off to do any banking.

    There are many more 24-hour inter-bank ATMs and branch offices that stay open later now, but even 10 years ago I’d have to take an hour off once a month or so for banking, insurance, etc.  ↩