I was sick the other week. Not contagious, nothing that required a trip to the doctor – just your average run of the mill “feels like the onslaught of the flu.” Luckily, I was able to stay home, bundled in blankets on the couch, drinking warm beverages, and just resting so that I could get up and at it by the next day.
I was thankful I had that option because I’ve worked for organizations that didn’t provide paid sick leave for their employees.
Oh sure, we had some paid vacation (1 week after a year), 6 paid holidays, plus a couple of “paid personal days,” but no paid sick leave or general paid time off (PTO). If non-exempt employees were ill and wanted to be paid, they had to use vacation time. We also utilized a point system for attendance – if an employee was taken ill suddenly, in an accident and in the hospital for a non-FMLA qualifying event, or woke up with a fever, not only did that employee have to either use vacation time or take the time unpaid, they also received a POINT for the absence as it was unscheduled.
Based upon my position, I had no real input into these policies. I was not an HR influencer, partner or change-agent; I was in a role where I upheld, enforced and trained employees and managers on these policies. It was part of our cultural DNA and organizational expectations.
Personally, it bothered me. I was the one who spoke with our employees who were unable to take time off for their own illness, let alone take time off to be with a sick child. I was the person who answered questions from mothers and fathers who had to choose between leaving a sick child home alone or risk getting a point on their attendance record.
Yes, the trains need to run on time, the donuts need to be made, and the teacups need to be packed for shipment. There are some jobs that require strict clock-in/clock-out times or require that the 2nd shift worker be in place before the 1st shift worker can go home. And I fervently believe that it is employers, not the government, who need to be allowed to determine what works best for their work environment, organization and industry when it comes to crafting paid leave policies and flexible work arrangements.
But sometimes what gets lost in all the talk about workplace flexibility, is the realization that there are some widely differing views of what that means.
I may define work-life balance as having the option for telecommuting or job-sharing or staggered work hours. Someone else may simply wish to have the opportunity to take some time off, without penalty, to tend to a sick child or recoup from a personal illness.
I’m a SHRM member and agree with SHRM’s support of H.R. 4855, the Work/Life Balance Award Act. While I’m not generally a fan of additional legislation, the focus of SHRM’s support for this Award (within the DOL) is to encourage organizations to think about work-life integration and to be innovative and flexible in their benefits and policies as appropriate for their specific environment.
When we lament our lack of being able to work at the local coffee shop, or take extended lunch hours to run errands because we will still “get the work done so what’s the big deal?”, I urge us to think about the worker who leaves her 12-year old with a 102 fever bundled up on the couch so she can get to work and not punch in 1-minute past her clock-in time. Doesn’t she want some flexibility too?
I view this as an opportunity for us in HR for this is what we are all about, keeping in mind what works for OUR specific organization and OUR specific workforce, while remembering the humans (and those they love) who are part of our decisions.
Our challenge is to remember that all flexible work options are not created equal. Are you up to the challenge?
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