Distance naturally forces you to reflect on the quirks which you regard as typical of your home. For the UK, these may include detailed conversations about the weather, being passionate about the milk-water tea ratio, and a mystifying belief that empire was a good thing – y’know, just British things.
Another feature regarded as quintessentially British is the hardy attitude towards sickness in the workplace.
Indeed, if you come into work when you’re clearly not at your physical peak, well, you’re obviously a grafter! In the UK, coming into work sick is a badge of honour to be commended. A former manager of mine often spoke proudly of their refusal to ever take time off work for health reasons, and had not done so in three years. Couple this attitude with hundreds of companies not covering sick pay and taking a day off ill rarely feels worth it.
This was a mindset I had never actively reconsidered – until I moved to Germany.
Unfortunately, I fell sick on week four of my new job. I’ll spare you the grisly details, but this issue had rendered my life fairly joyless for a few weeks. Nonetheless, I took the next steps in seeking medical advice with some trepidation. I have never used a healthcare system outside of the NHS.
No such thing exists in Germany. Instead, it’s up to you to cop up for pretty costly health insurance. You pay a certain percentage of your wage (14.6% as of 2016) each month towards the state-run healthcare system, which your German employer should be able to help you with. Personally, I found applying for health insurance to be a gleefully pain-free process, receiving my card in just over two weeks. This little card now occupies a prime spot in my purse; you won’t be seen by a GP here without one.
So it may come with a hefty price tag and yet MORE paperwork (have I mentioned how much they fucking love a form here?), but as I learned this week, the system works. On Monday, I was seen without an appointment at a new practice within 30 minutes, given 20 minutes of attention, and sent to a specialist on the same day. My English-speaking doctor was warm, empathetic and took the time to really delve into why I was feeling the way I did. As it turns out, my ailment isn’t exactly life-threatening, but it was dealt with the utmost urgency and care.
The attitude towards sick days at work here set another contrasting tone to what I’ve been used to. While I’m by no means suggesting employers would accept sick leave with so much as a broken nail, there’s a more discernible sense of care for your well being. When I had to send in notes explaining my absence, my colleagues were sincerely sympathetic, with no passive aggression or resentment sometimes expressed in other workplaces. I was told in no uncertain terms to only come back to work when I felt better.
My experiences have set a surprising yet welcome precedent. Here, not only are you actively encouraged to prioritise your health above all, but you will most likely be given sufficient time to recover. When my doctor automatically wrote a note saying I was not to work for the rest of the week, I was staggered. But having now approached the latter end of the recovery period, I’m so relieved he did.
Of course, I still can’t shake the guilt. Even during my weakest moments in the last few days, I’ve still felt I’d let the side down. Sadly, unlearning what has been ingrained into my work psyche won’t happen with one forgiving doctor’s note and some kind conversations. But it’s a process I’ll be glad to undertake, because in Germany, your health really does come first.
The fact that this comes as a revelation, and not simply a given, warrants another conversation entirely.
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