Take the sick day
On "Cheers" plot points, indoor air quality, and the gag that's probably been put to rest for a generation or two
No small number of sitcoms not that long ago depended on the premise of a main character showing up to work sick, usually to be goaded by co-workers into "sucking it up" and muddling through without taking the day off. The office flu used to be a gag that even "Cheers" leaned upon.
■ Funny how a pandemic drove a stake right through the heart of that premise. Nobody wants to be Patient Zero anymore, and that's a good thing: Americans and our work-driven cultural mentality need to know that it's not only prudent to take a break once in a while, it's the only responsible choice to stay home when potentially contagious.
■ It's possible that in the long run, we will either forget the lessons of the worst days of the Covid-19 pandemic -- or, perhaps more likely, those who remember the lessons will leave the workplace, and their successor generations won't have the same "muscle memory" for the value of staying home. But it would be much better if we were to strike a healthy balance between the virtues of attendance and the public-health responsibility to stay away from time to time.
■ Fixing that cultural hangup starts as early as elementary school, where achieving perfect attendance ought to be treated a little like winning a lottery ("Congratulations! You didn't happen to be sick on a school day all year!"). It's tricky to find the right rewards and commendations for avoiding voluntary absences while not skewing the incentives in such a way that well-intentioned kids show up when they should be home in bed. But that policy balance is important to seek.
■ Likewise for the workplace. Educational truancy and workplace absenteeism are both to be discouraged, but not at the expense of spreading contagion to everyone else. Among the many good ideas still worth implementing in most workplaces, achieving the right environment so that people feel valued enough that they want to show up (and value their colleagues enough not to show up when they oughtn't) probably ranks right up there alongside the considerably under-explored field of improving indoor air quality. Regardless, it will probably be some time before the sick day plays a central role in anything written for laughs.