Why Are Parents Reluctant to Ask for Time Off Work to Look After Their Children?

Where does this innate fear come from and why is it pushing parents to the point of hiding their caregiving roles to their employers? Hannah Hardy-Jones, CEO from The Kite Program shares her thoughts and experiences on this dilemma.

Eda Caspillo, Marketing & Sales Coordinator

Why Are Parents Reluctant to Ask for Time Off Work to Look After Their Children?

Juggling parenthood and working is no easy feat.

You wonder if every other parent shares the same work-life balance stresses as you do. You worry about taking time off to look after your child because you’re concerned about the additional workload that your colleagues take on. You question whether you should be a “dedicated employee” or a “good parent”, because it often feels impossible to be good at both. 

If you’re a working parent, you’ve probably experienced a few symptoms of working parent guilt. Consequently, it’s likely you’ve relied on one of these lines to get past the “sick child” dilemma at home:
“I can’t take off work, I have lots of work to do.”
“You’ll be fine.” 
“You don’t seem that sick, you can still go to school.”

The innate fear and worry that comes with asking for time off work to support one’s child is a natural reaction. It stems from the assumption that taking time off with sick children will affect your job, career and relationship with your colleagues or boss, not to mention the pressure at home when discussing which parent takes the role of looking after a sick child.

But why is this the case? Why are we left feeling guilty for wanting to fulfil our moral obligations to be there for our children? If you’re not lucky enough to have a boss who is understanding and supportive of your family obligations, you’d agree it’s time to change this narrative.

We spoke with our expert partner, Hannah Hardy-Jones, CEO of The Kite Program on her thoughts on this topic.

Beating the stigma

“There is a huge amount of stigma and shame about taking time off to support kids (whether it's for sickness or otherwise). This often comes from the outdated perception from some employers that you should “leave your personal life at the door”. Coming from an HR background I worked with many managers who would get exasperated when staff needed to take time off for their kids with comments such as “they need to have a back up plan for this” or “maybe full time work isn’t for them”. – Hannah Hardy-Jones

As Hannah points out, the reluctance from working parents is the result of the traditional belief that work and life should remain as two separate sides of one’s identity.

However, it has become clear that the Employee Value Proposition (EVP) has evolved over the past few years since the pandemic. Gartner states in their article: Make Way for a More Human-Centric Employee Value Proposition, that “persistent engagement and attraction challenges, and the human crises of 2020, have proven that the management principles underlying the EVP are outdated.”

In order to retain valuable employees, there needs to be greater understanding by employers that expectations have drastically changed when it comes to life and work. As Talent Management states in a recent article, “not only are employees looking for a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment that fosters a sense of belonging, they now want their personal experience – their life as a whole – to be top priority."

Normalising parenthood for fathers is a must

“There is often the belief or perception that women should be the ones to care for their children when sick, rather than men/fathers. I have met many men who have felt they can’t ask for time off work because their managers don’t accept that as a valid reason- asking outright why their partner/wife can’t be with the kids. There is much work to be done with this gender bias.” – Hannah Hardy-Jones

Hannah draws our attention to the very real and existing issue of gender prejudice towards working mums. Even when fathers want to take leave to support their children, they are often met with the invisible barriers at work which leads to the reluctance of uptake by dads in caregiving responsibilities. A subtle comment, such as a crack from a coworker about leaving early to take care of a sick child is enough to set this off.

Our previous article on “Why we need greater male representation to help break taboos and stigmas related to parental leave” speaks of the need for organisations and the government to take greater measures to incentivise fathers to step up and “share the load” when it comes to parenting duties, as a means of addressing the gaps in pay equity and female workforce participation.

The downside of flexible working for parents

“The pandemic and increase in working from home has increased this issue as there are much more blurred lines between work and family- if one of the kids is sick many people feel they can't take a sick day and instead juggle work around it, often making up the hours at night. So it can be argued that the issue is getting worse, not better for the employees working in hybrid/work from home conditions.” – Hannah Hardy-Jones

Whilst flexible working has its benefits, it can adversely affect parents in ways that lead to burn out and working longer hours.

Psychological safety in hybrid workplaces, as discussed in this Harvard Business Review article, is a far less visible factor that is influencing the effectiveness of hybrid workplaces, and can have a negative impact on anxious working parents who are determined not to get sick or infect family members. Data in the US shows that “nearly a third of working parents don’t feel comfortable talking to their boss about their childcare needs”. This calls for managers to do more to normalise parenthood within workplaces. 

Adopt a best practice approach to parental leave 

Employers and managers play an essential part in reinforcing and modelling positive attitudes towards parents and caregivers within the workplace. With the pandemic taking its toll on parents, right now is the perfect time for organisations to rethink their retention strategy and culture within siloed hybrid workforces.

For managers looking to adopt a best practice approach for supporting working parents before, during and after parental leave, download our Best Practice Guide for Parental Leave.

About The Kite Program

Hannah is the Founder and Director of a personal development app for mothers of all stages called The Kite Program - which is a world first. It is available in 144 countries, and Kite so far has users from across the globe- including Honduras, Australia, Egypt, USA and Switzerland. 

Hannah has an extensive background in Human Resources working within the medical device/manufacturing industry, publishing and most recently within the health sector. Her areas of expertise are leadership development and conflict resolution.

Hannah has also publicly shared her journey with maternal mental health issues and this is an area that she is actively involved in promoting awareness of. | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn

About triiyo

triiyo is an employee-centric, connectivity platform that simplifies the way people connect and communicate during workplace transitions. The centralised platform provides a safe space for employees to confidentially access support, connect and share information during complex events throughout the employee lifecycle.

Focused on employee wellbeing, engagement, and retention, organisations are able to prioritise the employee experience by supporting both managers and employees via automated tailored communication flows, communities and expertly curated content.

triiyo is seeking to partner with progressive HR people and innovative companies.

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