We owe it to ourselves to be honest and productive
Productivity is often viewed as the engine of development in modern economies like ours. Experts often say output is everything and time is money.
Almost daily concerns are expressed that Barbadians now are not as productive as their compatriots of old, and Wednesday’s startling revelations about the drain on the National Insurance Scheme’s sickness benefits provided serious evidence for the decline in productivity and grounds for investigations.
Social Security Minister Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo said that so serious is the abuse of sickness claims that measures have to be urgently implemented for the benefits to remain a viable option for Barbadians.
Simply put, if Barbadians don’t put a stop to claiming money from the NIS when they are not genuinely ill, there will soon be no money to draw from.
Dr Byer-Suckoo’s call for reform came on the heels of a private meeting involving the Director of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) Ian Carrington, and President of the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners (BAMP) Dr Abdon DaSilva.
During the discussions, Carrington shared startling statistics, albeit from 2009, that showed 533 doctors had issued 49,555 certificates totaling 561, 000 benefit days over a 10-month period. He said the claims cost the NIS $30 million, well in excess of the $28.6 million budgeted for that entire year.
And if that was not enough, Carrington pointed out that the NIS in Barbados got claims for twice the number of sick days and also made twice the payout when compared to the rest of the region.
The news was indeed enough to make one ill.
Undoubtedly, absenteeism in the workplace is an especially difficult problem to tackle, because while there are poor excuses for missing work there are also legitimate reasons.
But if, according to Dr Byer-Suckoo, some workers have been treating sick days as an entitlement, using them as vacation days and not for genuine sickness, we have a major problem on our hands.
The provision of a sickness benefit was designed to protect the income and job of a genuinely sick worker.
Lying about one’s health is unconscionable and the bad practice should be stamped out since the impact stretches far beyond the employee who selfishly decides to take a day or two or, worse yet, a week.
Sick days delay work, causing projects and production to fall behind. They create stress for colleagues who must fill the void, and they are costly.
Moreover, there’s nothing worse than when those false declarations are supported by a doctor’s certificate. Indeed, Dr Byer-Suckoo cited that a major concern was that some doctors issued more sickness certificates than the average.
No evidence was presented to suggest that any of the claims was not legitimate, but concerns about absenteeism and reduced productivity are real.
No one can deny that in these modern, fast paced times, jobs are stressful. But dishonesty is not the answer. Frankly, we need to adjust our attitudes and do our work, whatever it may be, with pride.
At the same time, authorities must make a concerted effort to get to the bottom of this issue. We support Dr Byer-Suckoo’s call for urgent action to preserve sickness benefits.
It is critical to understand the factors that can cause high absenteeism and drain productivity. Employers have a responsibility to provide decent working conditions for their employees. Businesses must do all in their power to motivate their employees to give of their best to the company and the country, by providing a safe, comfortable work environment. This is not just about the building and seating arrangements. Employees require meaningful communication and constructive feedback on an ongoing basis. This can help to build confidence and loyalty and enhance overall productivity.