Reliable Work Ethic: How About 44 Years and Never Once Called In Sick?

Postal workers get a bad rap and are frequent fodder for comedians and late night talk show hosts. But aside from the renowned story of Fred in The Fred Factor, here’s another glowing example of a remarkable postal worker.

“It’s just part of our work ethic,” Deborah Ford said when asked how she’s retiring from the U.S. Postal Service after 44 years without ever calling in sick. The “our’”part of her response was referring to her 86 year-old father who also never missed work.

Naturally, over the course of four and a half decades there were days when Ford was under the weather, but she said she would simply “shake it off.” She used her vacation days instead of sick days when she had a medical appointment or something that caused her to miss work.

A living example of reliability

In the process of demonstrating such profound reliability, Ford will retire on January 31, 2013, with 4,508 hours in her sick leave account. That will allow her a 5 percent increase in her pension; a nice bonus that is well deserved.

Deborah Wood is more than a feel good story; it’s an example that begs to be shared with the young emerging workforce. After all, they’ve grown up in a time when people go to school, cheerleader practice, work, etc. only if and when they “feel like it.”

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It’s commonplace for Millennials to see their parents, teachers, and even their managers call in sick when they aren’t. American workers take about 2.8 million work days of unplanned absences a year, not counting planned vacation days, holidays and personal days. A 2010 Mercer/Marsh report on the financial effect of employee absences said the cost of unplanned time off amounted to 5.8 percent of total payroll costs, and billions of dollars in lost productivity.

Reliability is one of the seven core values that every employer considers a non-negotiable. It’s encouraging to hear about people like Deborah Wood (and her father) who are shining examples for the rest of us.

This was originally published on Eric Chester’s Reviving Work Ethic blog. His new book is Reviving Work Ethic: A Leader’s Guide to Ending Entitlement and Restoring Pride in the Emerging Workforce. For copies, visit

Eric Chester is a leading voice in the global dialogue on employee engagement, and building a world-class workplace culture. He's an in-the-trenches researcher on the topic of the millennial mindset, and the dynamics of attracting, managing, motivating and retaining top talent. Chester is a Hall-of-Fame keynote speaker and the author of 4 leadership books including his newly released Amazon #1 Bestseller On Fire at Work: How Great Companies Ignite Passion in their People without Burning Them Out.  Learn more at and follow him at @eric_chester


2 Comments on “Reliable Work Ethic: How About 44 Years and Never Once Called In Sick?

  1. While that’s a wonderful record and I applaud her dedication, some people get truly and honestly sick. Is it really a good idea to suggest that to show great work ethic one must never fail to attend work regardless of health? There’s another norovirus stomach bug going around, and I promise not to slang the work ethic of anyone who stays home until they’re beyond the communicable stage. Conflating “sick day” with “playing hookey” causes confusion and problematic behaviors.

    1. Great point, Kathy. I’m sure not suggesting someone who’s ill should go into work and infect others. I only think this kind of commitment to being reliable and dependable is worthy of note.

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