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Perhaps I should take a sick day?

January 9, 2009

Happy New Year everyone!

One of my many resolutions for 2009 was to update this site at least every other day.  Although a critical observer might say that this resolution has already been broken, a more lenient individual would reply that since I did not specify a start date, I’m just fine.

So. Consider this Post #1 of my oh so diligent (and ambitious) “every other day” resolution.

As I’m still a bit jet lagged, we’ll start small. With a little bit of “Belgium in the News” news…

Check out this article from the WSJ about Belgians and sick leave.

Brief excerpts:

Belgians Take Lots of Sick Leave, And Why Not, They’re Depressed
Some, of Course, Are Watching the Soaps; Mr. Vandervelpen Needed a Little TLC

Belgians, like many Europeans, are entitled to extensive or even unlimited sick leave — and they tend to stretch the definition of the word. One study showed government employees in droves were calling in sick to pack before vacations and to sleep off holiday hangovers. Some government departments were averaging 35 days of paid sick leave per employee each year, more than twice the national rate and seven times the U.S. average.

“It was perverse,” says the 55-year-old former medical director for two big private-sector pharmaceutical companies, Eli Lilly & Co. and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. He decided to do something about it.

Dr. Cuypers and the minister for civil service set up a network of doctor-inspectors around the nation to smoke out malingerers. Each day since January last year, a dozen inspectors such as Vincent Quoidbach have been touring Belgium, knocking on the doors of 150 randomly selected sick and not-so-sick civil servants.

Once, says Dr. Quoidbach, he discovered that a man taking time off was really working a black-market job, given away by the paint on his hands. Another man answered his door with an undone belt as a woman hurried out the door. Others, faking bad backs, got to the door too fast.

Europe has long suffered from sick-day disease, and many European governments are trying to fix the problem. The average European worker took off 11.3 days in 2005, compared with 4.5 days for the average American, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, in Paris. The cost of those lost workdays to Europe’s economy is sometimes as much as 1.3% of gross domestic product annually, says OECD senior economist Christopher Prinz.

But changing Europe’s sick-day culture isn’t easy. Half of all Belgians on medical leave say they suffer from depression — the country has Western Europe’s highest suicide rate.

So, as my dad asked this morning, “Is this true? Do Belgians take an excessive number of sick days?”

In a word, “yup.”

More to come on “why” later… I’m off for a Friday night of Pizza that is in contention for the BEST in Brussels (which is actually saying something as my favorite place rivals any Italian pizzeria) as well as a high stakes game of Wii Mario Kart!  Although these plans do bear a frightening resemblance to a 5th grade birthday party, I’m totally excited. (wahoo for making friends!)

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