SPRINGFIELD – “Why don’t you just order your wife to look after your daughter?”
I’m rarely at a loss for words, but when a man who is no longer my boss said that to me, I was left speechless.
What I should have said is, “I don’t order my wife to do anything.” Instead, like most working parents I just kept my mouth shut. My wife and I have an arrangement, when we have a sick child we take turns staying home and looking after her.
I thought it was a pretty equitable agreement. After all, my wife is employed, too.
My boss didn’t see it that way. He viewed caring for a sick child as something an employer should not be concerned with.
(He’d also grumble about women taking maternity leaves while, at the same time, he’d send them flowers and congratulations from him and his wife.)
To be fair, I’ve also had some understanding bosses over the years who really worked to accommodate family needs. When I was supervising reporters and editors I tried hard to do this as well.
Today, I’m blessed to be self-employed and work from a home office. And my daughters can just stay home with me if they aren’t feeling well.
But I haven’t forgotten what it was like to be stuck with a less than understanding boss.
I was thinking about that Friday, when an email came across my desk saying Illinois schools will be closed at least until the end of March because of coronavirus concerns.
I imagine the news had some children dancing a jig and more than a few parents scratching their heads.
Who is going to look after the kids?
Some kids have nearby grandparents or other relatives who can step into the gap. But not all families are so blessed.
This means parents will need to take time off work. And that is easier said than done.
Several decades ago, I took management training and was told by a human resources director: “Sick days are to be used for when employees are sick – not their children.”
This forced many employees to lie about who was really ill if they had to stay home with a feverish child.
It would be easy to paint the bosses as the bad guys in this mix. But life is seldom so black and white.
Oftentimes, managers would make Herculean efforts to accommodate employees with child-care issues. Of course, this had to be done on the downlow because corporate policy dictated that it wasn’t something they were to be concerned with.
But how do you make those accommodations and keep everyone happy? You can’t.
At the time I was single and childless. And I became a go-to guy to fill in for the night and weekend shifts of workers who stayed home caring for their kids. Looking back, I’d like to think I was magnanimous about helping out. I wasn’t always.
After all, no one is keen on canceling plans or eating the cost of tickets to concerts or sporting events.
But in a time of crisis, like we are experiencing today, a little extra grace needs to be extended. It may mean filling in for a co-worker who is home looking after a child. If you are a middle manager, it may mean advocating for the needs of your employees.
And if you are a senior manager, it’s time to acknowledge that family issues are also corporate ones.
After all, no employee should have to choose between pleasing a boss or caring for a child.
SCOTT REEDER is a veteran statehouse journalist and a freelance reporter. ScottReeder1965@gmail.com.