Let’s talk about workplace misconceptions when it comes to parents.
The other day one of my team took a personal day, because his girlfriend had a cold. It was a first for me. I don’t think I’ve ever taken a day to stay home and look after a boyfriend who had a cold; despite how deadly man-flu can be! That said, I accepted the reason for the day off and carried on about my day. When it was mentioned in front of one of my peers in the office, a thirty-something single guy with no kids, he laughed. Then he looked directly at me and shrugged, “Well you can’t blame him, you guys take days off to look after your kids when they’re sick. It’s only fair.”
I’m sorry… what???
My first reaction was to be very taken back and saddened by his point of view. Not only had I not said anything about the team member’s sick day, but I definitely hadn’t been aware it was a competition. My second reaction was to be pissed! I think the biggest issue here is the misconception of what mother’s (and father’s) actually do.
So what’s the problem?
There is a misconception that when we leave for the day at five pm to ensure we can make day care pick up that we’re knocking off early. I’d like the record to show that the next three to four hours are non-stop hard work and in no way relaxing. Moreover, there are countless evenings where I log back on after my child goes to bed to get the job finished. Let’s be clear, there are times I would love nothing more than to head to the pub instead!
Then there is the notion that taking a day off to look after a sick child means we are kicking back at the beach or sleeping in and watching Game-of-Thrones re-runs. Looking after a sick child is actually way more stressful and upsetting than eight hours of my day job. Especially off the back of no sleep (because kids aren’t just sick during the day), so trust me when I say if I had the option… I’d be having a coffee at my desk.
Perhaps the most worrying take-out from this, is that despite companies taking really positive steps in the right direction to offer employees flexible working, there are people who don’t have kids still making the ones who do feel like we’re getting preferential treatment. My company offers all employees flexible working, so why was I singled out when my team member took a day off to take care of a sick girlfriend as though he’d found a loophole to get one up on me?
So what’s the solution?
This is a bit of a rant-y post today, but there needs to be more empathy and common sense in the workplace to ensure every valued employee feels supported.
Offering all staff flexible working hours to ensure work-life balance regardless of personal circumstances or motivation for wanting to work flexibly is a great start for employers who care about their employees’ wellbeing. No preferential treatment… you can design work around your life for whatever reason you want. Now we just need to go one step further to actually educate our people on a day-in-the-life of a working mum. A little empathy goes a long way and we need to encourage one another to treat coworkers with respect they deserve.