The Ethics of Managing Your Personal Time

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    Ethics involves more than how we treat our patients; it involves how we treat our coworkers as well.

    There's a lot said about ethics in nursing, and much of it -- most of it, probably -- pertains toward the ethical treatment of patients. Not charting meds you haven't given or procedures you haven't done, admitting your med errors and setting about to mitigate the damage just as soon as you realize you've made an error, truth and honor in communicating with other members of the health care team. Those are all examples of nursing ethics and I won't denigrate their value. But it seems to me that managing your personal time is as much about ethics as any of those other topics.

    Nursing, especially hospital nursing, is a job that must be covered 24/7/365. Nights, weekends, holidays and the night of the biggest blizzard or biggest tornado of the year notwithstanding, our patients must be cared for. If your nurse manager is getting married and everyone wants to be there, someone still has to work. If a valued colleague is being buried and everyone wants to be there, someone still has to work.

    I will never forget the day a popular night nurse was being married and 7 of the 13 nurses scheduled for the night shift developed sudden cases of the flu. Six of them were front and center trying to catch the bouquet when the manager snapped a picture . . . and all of them were sitting in her office on Monday morning signing letters of reprimand.

    Most of us have so many hours of sick time. We're supposed to use it to cover actual illnesses, although many have extended that to cover mental health days as well. That's great if you can manage it. Our hospital's attendance policy is so strict and so unreasonable that it mandates coming to work sick even while the written policy explicitly forbids it. If you're disciplined for using more than three sick days a year and you've already had food poisoning, an abcessed tooth with a fever of 104 and a child who broke their arm jumping off the roof just as you were leaving for work, you're either going to come to work with the flu or risk being disciplined. You'll probably base your decision less upon how contagious you might be and more upon how many occurences you've already had, where you are in the disciplinary continuum and how much of a rule-follower you are.

    It seems to me that ethics ought to be about managing our personal time off -- and I'm mostly talking about sick calls here -- in such a manner that you'd be happy to explain your decision making process on "Sixty Minutes" , to your priest in the confessional or to St. Peter. If you're not sick on Christmas Day, please don't call in sick and force the rest of us to work short. None of us want to be there on Christmas, either, and we'd appreciate a chance to sit down for lunch to enjoy the potluck we've all contributed to. If you're not scheduled off the day of the unit picnic, and you can't arrange to trade shifts with someone who isn't interested in going, please show up for work. Calling in sick that day is just not cool. Nor is it ethical.

    If your water heater explodes giving you second degree burns, by all means, call in sick. That's what sick time is for. But most people never have that experience and I find it difficult to believe you've had it happen three times so far this year. Ditto with the death in the family excuse. How many grandmothers did you have, anyway? Even if we counted step-grandparents and great grandparents, eight seems to be a bit excessive.

    It ought to go without saying that we treat our co-workers with honor and integrity. Unfortunately, it needs to be said.

    Don't blow off your call shifts. Saying "I forgot" just does not fly -- especially the second and third time it happens. If you're not in the ER or the funeral home, come to work on your scheduled Christmas and Thanksgiving and if your grandmother isn't dying, don't say she is so you can avoid work. There are times it sucks to be a hospital nurse and come to work when everyone else is having a good time. That's what we signed up for, though, so that's what we ought to do.
    Last edit by Joe V on May 3, '11 : Reason: formatting for easier reading
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    About Ruby Vee, BSN, RN

    Ruby Vee tries to follow the rules and behave with integrity.

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  3. by   nurse.sandi
    Great article. Another ethical manage your time off could include, if it is not my Christmas holiday to work and I do not have small children in the house anymore, does not mean I should have to work that Christmas. I worked my holidays. I can not count how many parties, special occassions, even my own father's bereavement days. I had an administrator mandate me to work when my own father passed. What!? It was terrible.
    There are times, you can not control the world around you. But sometimes we can prepare the world around us.
  4. by   noreenl
  5. by   caliotter3
    Very good article. Reminds me of the time when all the employees of a nursing home attended a Christmas party and left one nurse and one CNA to take care of the 172 residents. That one was obviously a blatant disregard for the poor people who made the employment there possible.
  6. by   nursel56
    I agree 100% Ruby. I can't understand how people can so easily disregard the consequences of selfish behavior like your wedding attendees. These people could at least have the decency to be wracked with guilt-- but nooooooo . .

    I am no saint by any means - but the one and only time I called in sick without being sick was before nursing when I was a waitress at a pie and coffee shop. I let my friends talk me into it, and when I went in I'd found out one of the sweetest people there had cancelled plans for something very important to her so I could -- I don't remember what we did. It was that stupid. Never again.

    I may have taken it too far though because when I first starrted at Children's I caught the nastiest, fever-causing crud microbe from hell, and worked through it remembering the above -- oh yeah and the sheer terror about getting fired as a new nurse.
  7. by   mindlor
    well one of the main concepts of ethics is Veracity (Truth).

    Lets all just tell the truth... Hey boss, I would like to go to the wedding....I am willing to use PTO. if you could find a temp or prn to cover me I would appreciate it.

    As a manager its more the lying that bothers me than anything else. What else are they lying about?

    ps, if ya come in spewing various microbes willy nilly, I would send ya home, please dont come to work actually sick.....

    If someone lies to me I ccant trust them. if I cant trust me I cant have them working for me........

    Lots of nurses looking for jobs.....just sayin....
  8. by   Flo.
    Quote from mindlor
    Lots of nurses looking for jobs.....just sayin....
    I hate when management uses this threat.
  9. by   mindlor

    The vast majority of my team were honest, hard working people and I loved them and they loved me.

    When I did get the rare bad apple I never threatened them, I fired them, and fast.

    I do not believe in threatening people. Keeping bad apples on a team is a disaster for motivation and morale....
  10. by   Meg, RN
    I definitely agree with the OP, it sucks when you count on people to show up for work and you're consistently being dumped (no pun intended) on by people that call out for the silliest "reasons." (Such as "I can't go to the bathroom, I'm stopped up so I can't come to work. Sorry! I guess ya'll will just have to get by without me!" Seriously. I felt like telling her, "Don't worry you can have a Dookie-lax once you get here"):smackingf I NEVER call out unless I'm contagious with something awful. My coworkers mean too much to me to leave them short-handed.
  11. by   caliotter3
    Quote from Flo.
    I hate when management uses this threat.
    But lots of nurses are looking for work and any one of them can replace someone.
  12. by   megan_EMT
    I can't count the number of times I've been asked "so and so is going to be 'sick' on wednesday, will you be able to cover?" Please people, switch shifts with people or plan ahead.
  13. by   nurse.sandi
    My own father died and I had to work. They were so great to me..they let me off to attend my only father's funeral. I do not know if this makes a difference but he was 52 years old and passed unexpectantly. Come on.. they couldn't find a replacement and I did not hear any of my coworkers trying to change shifts with me. Shame on me...lucky I did not know what I know now. Experience will change your life.
    Last edit by nurse.sandi on May 4, '11 : Reason: addedum
  14. by   nurse.sandi
    Quote from megan_EMT
    I can't count the number of times I've been asked "so and so is going to be 'sick' on wednesday, will you be able to cover?" Please people, switch shifts with people or plan ahead.
    Is going to be sick....? I totally understand your point. I guess I can predict three days from now I will be sick. Unbelievable...but after some of the things I have been through...I believe it.