Back to work after the flu
January 22, 2019 2:02 AM   Subscribe

I have type A influenza, most likely caught at work as others in the office had it before me. Had to take some unpaid time off as I haven't accrued enough sick leave as a new employee. Tentatively said I'd be back on Thursday and just looked at my schedule to see I've been scheduled for a strenuous task Thursday morning. I'm not sure if my feelings about this are justified.

I just started this job at a HUGE American company (for context, you all know this company and it usually promotes an image of being a great place to work) here in Japan. Boss is from the US, co-workers and schedule coordinators are all Japanese.
The flu is a big deal here and pretty much the only illness Japanese people take time off work for, and kids are not allowed in schools. I only got a few days of sick leave and had to use a day to fly home to see my grandma in the hospital over New Year (she was very sick and could have died). I came back two weeks ago to a really stressful schedule with lots of outside meetings, standing around in the cold, and getting really close to people because it's hard to hear on a construction site. (I am an interpreter.) I understand that while I'm new and learning the lingo, my senior co-workers will handle more difficult meetings inside, which have more talking and less pointing to things, but I also wonder how I'll ever get better at those if I never do any meetings. I haven't been scheduled for anything inside in weeks.
The other interpreters are mostly nice (other than one who is a big hypocrite about some things she claims I did wrong that she does herself), but tend to treat me like a bit of an idiot because I'm the only one who's not Japanese. I wonder if I pissed someone off to receive this kind of schedule, but then the interpreters don't make the schedules, a coordinator does. The expats are all very nice to me.

Anyway, I looked at my schedule and wondered I of all people was scheduled for a three hour ware house inspection right after getting back from sick leave (unless I still feel like crap in two days) - when I coordinated people's schedules in my previous job, I took their physical fitness and previous schedules into account and made sure not to give really tough tasks to someone who had just been sick and possibly come back earlier because they felt like they couldn't stay away much longer, or try not to give the worst tasks to the same person all the time.
I get that for some people, "back from sick leave" means "100% good to go", but considering the cultural pressure here to take as little time off as possible and my situation of having to take time unpaid, I thought maybe someone would go, "how about giving Loony an indoor meeting or a translation on her first day back?" I worry about the repercussions of calling in Thursday morning if I still don't feel well, or showing up and then doing shitty work, or overworking myself.

Am I acting too entitled here, or too European? (I realize my last work questions on here were also about being sick and hating my job...)
posted by LoonyLovegood to Work & Money (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I can't comment on the dynamics you mention about being treated differently because you're not Japanese, and I have no idea how that might play into your scheduling question.

But I will say that in my experience, people in general are just not as thoughtful or sensitive as you're expecting them to be in this question. It's really nice that you gave a lot of thought to whether someone who'd been out sick might not feel 100% upon their return, but I bet most people just look at the calendar quickly and say, great, these people will be here on Thursday, let's divide the tasks up amongst them.
posted by sunflower16 at 3:15 AM on January 22, 2019 [44 favorites]

Am I acting too entitled here, or too European?

Maybe? I agree with sunflower16 - I doubt they gave it nearly as much thought as you have. As you say, "back from sick leave" means "good to go" for me. Granted, I don't know what a three-hour warehouse inspection entails for you - so it may be more tasking than it sounds to me.

Note that coming back from the flu or similar is different to me than, say, coming back from major surgery or a car accident with a busted leg or something. I'd know to make accommodations for someone in those scenarios, but coming back from the flu or whatnot... I'd assume that back to work means ready to do normal duty.

Also, you have a few days yet - maybe you will feel 100% by Thursday?
posted by jzb at 4:36 AM on January 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

I think it’s likely you’re thinking of scheduling as something personal or managerial here, where it sounds like it’s more of an efficiency exercise at your new location. I’ve recently been through analyzing scheduling software and it’s even possible it’s being done through a system that tracks the tasks you’re “cleared” for and then the software makes a first cut at balancing out everyone’s shifts.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:47 AM on January 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

Based on the scheduler at my work--where literally every week for years, we have to fix uncovered slots, triple covered slots, people who are out being on the schedule for one random hour, entire slots being missed and ignored, one person on triple shifts of hard duty while another has no assignment--this is just thoughtlessness, not anyone targeting you.
posted by gideonfrog at 5:09 AM on January 22, 2019 [5 favorites]

I'd guess that they just literally can't wait any longer for you and need it done RIGHT NOW more than anything else.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:05 AM on January 22, 2019

I agree with gideonfrog. Any place where you have a complicated schedule, they are not thinking about your situation at all, just trying to fill in the chart. It is likely that no one even looks at your particular schedule across a week or a month to see if you are always getting the same duties, or whatever. That goes double if their interpreting resources are stretched thin.

So, you can judge better than we can how it would go if you called the person in charge of the schedule and said that you will not be 100% on Thursday and ask them to give you a less physically taxing job on that day. This is a one-off, you are not criticizing the way the do the schedule or anything like that, so hopefully they would move some things around for you. Everyone's had this flu so they know how bad it is. Being new, it might be politic to present this like you are asking a favor this one time but again, you know the culture of this workplace.
posted by BibiRose at 6:34 AM on January 22, 2019

You work in Japan with Japanese coworkers. The typical Japanese thing to do in this case is to suck it up and go in to work. If you no longer have flu symptoms there may be little tolerance for requesting a different assignment that day.

Is the scheduler from Japan? If you feel comfortable doing so, just let them know that you don't feel up to it.

In terms of being forced to take all the outside jobs: you're in Japan, you're a junior on the team, and this is the sort of work that gets assigned to juniors. Japan, is, as you must already know as an interpreter, a hierarchical society. You do your time and at some point you get the better jobs.

Aside from your illness, a test of your character is to see whether or not you will do all jobs well, and at the best of your ability, including working outside in the cold. This is one of the reasons why you can get reasonably good, competent service at any restaurant or shop in Japan. People generally try to do a good job at whatever they're assigned to do, because that's what they're there for.

With your coworkers, there's the tendency for foreigners in Japan to complain about being treated differently. And we are. But junior employees -- and you are a junior member of the team -- are usually bossed around, anyway. In some workplaces there are efforts by seniors to develop a rapport based on collegiality and trust with juniors like you, but the ostracism you are experiencing is only one of degree -- Japanese juniors get the same thing.

In an ideal world, you will prove yourself to your seniors by being polite, friendly, professional and cheerful, and gradually win them over. But, as we know, toxic workplaces are all too common and things will never get better.

But it's not a Japan problem, it's a workplace problem. If you speak Japanese at a professional level there is an infinite number of jobs you can do. I, personally, could never work in a Japanese environment. That is why for the past decade I have been self-employed as a translator and marketing writer.

I get to live in Japan for part of the year, make money, and enjoy life on my own terms. This just points out how extremely inflexible I am, and how bad my people skills are.

Maybe you are different and more adaptable than me? Because it seems like you have a real opportunity here to work for a world-class company for a few years, and then make a move to someplace you want to work.

posted by JamesBay at 8:10 AM on January 22, 2019 [9 favorites]

JamesBay: Like you, and many young Japanese people these days, I do not enjoy dealing with the kind of BS you describe (that I know all too well from my last toxic job) and have specifically chosen a non-Japanese company that advertises a flat hierarchy, with a non-Japanese boss. (And in fact, even newer employees than me do get "nicer" assignments.) But since I've also never worked for Americans, and I assume not everyone is as reasonable as Alison from Ask A Manager, I had to ask this question.

In the end, I went back to work and people were very nice and offered to reshuffle some stuff. I always wonder if people are nice because someone comes back to work looking like they're not ready, and much less nice if you take all the time you need and come back when you look fully human again...
posted by LoonyLovegood at 1:02 PM on January 24, 2019

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