Honour-based medical leave system is self-policing

Dr Judy Sng Gek Khim is right to say that employees consuming their entitled medical leave in full are usually in the minority ("Allowing sick leave without MC can make business sense"; yesterday).

It is untrue that the honour system necessarily compromises productivity.

In many Western European countries, as well as the Nordic states, an honour-based system for excusing oneself from work is extremely widespread, and in some places, mandated by law.

In spite of this, countries such as Switzerland, Norway, Germany and Denmark are consistently ranked among the 10 most productive in the world, even as they face many of the same demographic and manpower woes as Singapore.

It is clear, therefore, that flexible leave policies have not had much of a detrimental effect.

A possible reason for this is that honour-based systems are self-policing.

A worker who makes excessive use of self-reported medical leave will, no doubt, arouse suspicion from managers and co-workers, potentially affecting working relationships, or jeopardising advancement and salary prospects.

Moreover, firms that operate on an honour-based medical leave system still require workers to fulfil basic work obligations, such as meeting deadlines and completing assigned tasks. Failure to do so would still be grounds for censure or dismissal.

These built-in checks help to ensure that the honour system is predominantly used by those who are genuinely ill, rather than exploited by the lazy.

Indeed, there is reason to believe that honour-based medical leave actually contributes to increased productivity.

It would suggest a high degree of trust between employer and employee. This can help bridge the psycho-social gap that all too often exists between management and workforce, thus streamlining workflow.

Moreover, having employees gauge their own recovery time promotes full rest and recuperation, which may very well enhance work performance in the long run.

Technology firms such as Google often have flexible work-hour and attendance policies - employees work wherever and whenever they see fit, provided they have the results to show for it.

It is no coincidence that these companies are also among the most productive and innovative of all.

In our efforts to boost productivity, we would do well to study and appreciate unorthodox solutions, rather than rush to equate liberty with abuse.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2016, with the headline 'Honour-based medical leave system is self-policing'. Print Edition | Subscribe