Have you ever heard of that Japanese company that started an initiative to give non-smokers six extra days off of work a year to make up for all the smoking breaks that they don’t get to have throughout their workdays? Well, a similar sentiment has been floating around some companies here in the States, but they’re not talking about PTO from cigarette breaks – they’re talking about child breaks.
Most American companies are lenient to employees that have just become new parents, allowing them paid leave in the form of maternity and paternity breaks. Some workforces take it a step further and allow extra days off for parents that have to take care of a child that’s sick or experiencing some sort of emergency.
Now, those allowances are definitely a good thing overall; denying them would be a fast track to quick turnover. The trouble comes from the grumblings of employees who don’t plan on having kids and are therefore held to a stricter set of PTO rules.
Do these employees envy mothers who find themselves taking care of their baby 12 hours a day during their maternity leave? Not exactly – it’s more about the principle. When a parent has a few legitimate reasons to call out of work, while someone without a child has virtually none, it can be frustrating for a childless employee that has stressors outside of the office.
Some folks, like this attorney who wrote in to Slate, get stuck with the extra work that new parents leave behind when they duck out early to pick up their kids. Now, could a childless employee duck out early because they have to send a package before the post office closes for a holiday weekend? Never. That’s why many of them want a little extra allowance.
What to do?
In case you weren’t sure, the solution to this dilemma is never to take vacation time away from new parents. However, it’s not as easy as giving more vacation time to your childless employees the way the company in Japan did to non-smokers.
There are two reasons for this. One, taking care of a child is less of a daily, intentional choice than smoking is, and therefore parents have more of a right to feel like they’re getting ripped off of vacation days. The second reason is that if enough parents in your workplace are getting maternity leave and extra days off for your other employees to start grumbling about it, the answer can’t really be more vacation time to go around, or else you’d never have a full office again.
Instead, you’ll have to choose something in the middle that lets childless employees know they’re being seen without doubling their PTO. Our favorite middle ground is something called “pet-ernity leave”!
Folks without kids often at least have a pet to keep them company, and getting a new pet without taking time off of work can be a big source of stress. I won’t sugarcoat it – you don’t want your new dog to poop on your carpet before you get a chance to train it a little.
So, pet-ernity leave is a free 3-5 days off for childless workers to take care of their new pet the same way a mother does, but on a smaller scale. They get the same sort of allowance for their new responsibility without the same time commitment, which is good for both them and their colleagues that would be inconvenienced by a longer leave.
Our other tip is to simply be more flexible for days off that aren’t child-related. As referenced before, someone might be annoyed that they can’t dip out of work to deliver an important package – so let them! If someone has a good reason to miss work or leave early, you can’t deny them that right while allowing a parent the same right for something that isn’t an emergency.
Might employees take advantage of your extra leniency? Well… they could. If you’re worried they are, though, just remind yourself how important a work-life balance is and that extra time off ultimately helps everyone recharge their batteries and stave off burnout.
A manager has got to be REALLY sure that someone is abusing their PTO privilege before they step in and say anything. For instance, a woman recently wore a fake pregnant belly to work to lock in maternity leave, which got her indicted on identity fraud. If an employee has gotten seven new dogs this year, or a new father’s baby pictures look suspiciously plastic, well, I wish you luck.
In any case, give childless employees the right to call out of work more easily, and let everyone bask in the glow of work-life balance!