reporting this week’s “work & family” column on people who haven’t take a sick day for decades drove home a truth that working parents know well: child-care responsibilities can have a big impact on absenteeism at work.
among the five employees i tracked down who had perfect attendance records lasting from 25 to 64 years, all had rich personal lives and relationships outside work, including community service and church work, or gardening and hobbies. two of these remarkable people had cared for elderly relatives in their off-work hours for years, while still managing to post perfect attendance on the job. one employee for a cosmetics company teamed up with his wife to care for his aged mother in her home for five years, without marring a 25-year record of perfect attendance. another, a woman who held a variety of jobs on a hospital staff without taking a sick day for 64 years, cared for her elderly sister for years.
but not one of them was primarily responsible for child care at home. each of the men i interviewed had a wife at home when their children were growing up, overseeing their care. and of the two women interviewees with perfect attendance, neither had had children.
“my hat is off to those who have families,” said one interviewee, a nurse with a perfect 25-year attendance record. “i don’t know how people do it. i just have to take care of myself, and that’s hard enough.”
this was no scientific study, of course. nevertheless, these examples shed light on the importance of flexible scheduling for parents; many working parents get just as much done as others, but splice work hours into the evening after the kids are in bed, before dawn or on weekends. back-up child-care plans are critical. in one important trend, many employers have shifted to paid time-off banks – allotting all employees a specified number of days off for any purpose. and of course, federal and state family-leave laws and measures mandating paid sick days are helpful too, and typically can be used to care for a sick child.
readers, do you see working parents being absent from work more often than others? if you’re a working parent, are you absent more often than you were in the past? what tactics or benefits are most helpful to you in avoiding absences – back-up care, flexible scheduling, work-at-home privileges?