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Parents vs. Kidless Workers


The Globe and Mail’s Corporate Governess’s column about singles covering for colleagues with sick kids touched a nerve!

We can probably agree that parents with young kids want more time off.  But the real question is:  how can employers ensure equitable accommodation for staff without kids…who also have lives with just as many, just different, competing interests?

When the Globe asked the question:  “Do your colleagues with kids get more time off”?  survey said:

  • 50% said Yes.  It’s not fair to the single people at my company.
  • 41% said No.  Parents have to use their own vacation time or sick days
  • 9% said I wouldn’t call it time off.  After all you’re taking care of sick children.

Singles commented:  “Employees are hired to do a job.  In choosing that job, people have to figure out what kind of work will fit with their chosen lifestyle and pick accordingly”.

Parents commented:  “When my single colleague is too hung over to drag himself into the office on Monday, I cover for him…  And when I get a call from daycare that my kid is sick, he covers for me”.

As an HR professional, I know the old model of alloting Sick days (for bona fide personal illness) plus Vacation days (based on tenure…which long service staff often can’t or don’t take!) just doesn’t work!  Way too much time is spent (wasted!) scheduling, negotiating, re-scheduling and justifying.

By and large, we’re talking about team based workplaces with responsible adults who want to do a good job every day.  Surely the focus should be on outcomes rather than face time?  That, of course, assumes a practical goal-setting and performance management program is in place!

What about coming up with a reasonable number of Personal (rather than Sick plus Vacation) days each year for all staff?  Everyone needs time to:

  • Add measurable value to their role at work.
  • Take care of their families (kidless workers may be responsible for elder care rather than child care;  all of us, regardless of level or tenure, need to attend to personal business from time to time:  visit the accountant, banker, doctor or lawyer, attend funerals, be a juror…).
  • Volunteer in the community.
  • Engage in life long learning.

This way, staff know how many days they have each year and assume accountability for managing them.  There’s no need to justify taking time off as and when needed as long as they have a positive balance.  However, unused time shouldn’t be carried over into any ”bank”.  Generally accepted accounting principles don’t support employers paying staff who leave for any unused time at their current rate of pay when it was probably earned at a lower rate.   Stress goes down.  Productivity goes up.  Everyone wins.

One manager said he gives “parents time for sick kids, first dibs on Christmas and Spring break;  in return, staff without kids get Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve and winter vacation times”.

Managers and staff know their own workplace best.  Let them sort it out as long as clients are well served and the end result for staff is equitable.