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Opinion Bill Walton, Personal Days

How many people does it take to change a light bulb?
20221010 bluets walton

That old saw has been around since Edison and Tesla improved arc lighting by marketing the incandescent light bulb. Versions of the person standing on the ladder and screwing in the new bulb abound with many replies giving a smile at the incompetence of lawyers, dentists, priests, and people from Alberta. The answer, technically, ought to be one, unless an assistant is needed to hold the ladder, another assistant to turn off and on the power, and a supervisor to make sure the job is done quickly, safely, and within the time-productivity standards.

Fortunately, the days of replacing burned-out incandescent bulbs are past and the joke has lost its meaning because today’s younger jokesters only know ‘last-for-a-lifetime’ LED light bulbs. So we need another example of the workplace that requires a number of employees to complete a repetitive task – say looking after sick or incapacitated people in home care or long-term care facilities. It could be any business but this example has been in the news lately.

Suppose you had 100 clients that needed daily care or service. Each of your trained employees can look after 25 clients for an 8-hour shift. You would calculate the number of shifts per day, multiply that by seven days and hire the number of people you need. Those who are quick with their fingers will say 84 people but then you must factor in sick days, vacation days, stat holidays, maternity and paternity leaves, and now personal days. The Human Resources department will have calculated the number of people who will be off sick in any given week, the vacation days taken and then factored in the extra number of employees needed to cover the absences.

Alas, as complicated as that was, we now have a new wrinkle: personal days. What may have started as a need for sick days during Covid has morphed into: Section 50 is re-enacted to provide for up to 10 paid days of personal emergency leave in the case of a personal illness, injury, or medical emergency, the illness, injury or medical emergency of a specified family member or an urgent matter concerning a specified family member. An urgent matter: Like the trout are rising for Wooly Buggers in the McConnell Lakes. I need a fishing day – I mean a mental health day. If you have to call someone in on overtime to replace me – that’s your problem.

How does any business owner/company hire the right number of people to meet their needs? Well, the obvious answer is to hire more people than you used to need. What does that do to the bottom line? Guess, what – the price of widgets, coffee, bagels, snow tire installations, etc. just went up. In the public sector, where stress in the health field is taking a toll, personal days are cutting into service. Hire more staff if you can, even though that will mean an increase in taxes.

This hiring more people to do what fewer used to do (remember the incandescent light bulbs) causes inflation. Although it opens up more jobs, we have more people accomplishing less per person.

Then to complicate matters, have the government throw in days off for the death of some titled person in another country; a recognition day for Grandfathers; National Lower Cholesterol Day, and Easter Egg Recovery Day and we have businesses struggling to meet production and sales promises that cause something called supply chain delays. Inflation again. Stress-related personal days are needed.

Maybe we are a kinder, gentler society now but talking to a couple of old retired gaffers (baby boomers) we are confounded by this new work ethic, that it seems to us, too many are adopting. None of us could remember taking a personal day off work when our dog died. And we assured ourselves we loved old Chum as much as anyone now loves their Pedro or Sasha, albeit these miniature dogs are not near the stature of Chum who was a full-sized Lab.

It took more than a sniffle and a mild headache to keep us away from our lathe. Although perhaps we did spread germs around to other workers. However, maybe we were more virus-resistant back in the day. We certainly had our measles and polio shots, never thinking to question the doctors or the health system. Maybe eating that peck of dirt when we were kids did something to our immune system – who knows?

The thing was, we all said, was that we were invested in the success of our company or even our system of government. Not only because we might have a pension or some benefits, but we just were proud of making widgets, cooking a burger, serving a nice meal, or fixing the carburetor on that Chevy. And maybe we misjudge the present workers but there are simply too many anecdotal stories of people not showing up for work – and seemingly not caring if they miss a shift or what that does to a company trying to make something to sell at a competitive price.

As we sat sipping our coffee and waiting for the server to bring us our toasted blueberry bagels with low-fat cream cheese, we lamented that our pension was shrinking from inflationary pressures, the interest on our meagre savings was being eroded by higher taxes, and the outlook for an eventual place in long-term care looked pessimistic. We wanted something, someone to blame for this deteriorating circumstance in our golden years.

The young lady came with our bagels, saying she was sorry for the delay but a worker had not shown up for work. She muttered something about ‘a personal day’ and we old gaffers exchanged knowing looks. Tom said, “I wonder how many cooks it takes to make a bagel?” Art said, “They don’t even make them here – they are trucked in.” I thought it might involve several hundred people in the bagel production chain - from the wheat farmers, blueberry pickers, truckers, cooks, HVAC people at the bakery, and several people to change the light bulbs . . . as long as one of them did not take a Personal Day. Any one of which would jeopardize our morning coffee and bagel routine.

Bill Walton

About the Author: Bill Walton

retired from City of North Bay in 2000writer, poet, columnist
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