The day after President Obama announced during his State of the Union address that he’s directing federal employees to receive paid leave, I watched a great segment on the struggle of new parents onPBS NewsHour. The report showed the impact on a family when parents don’t have the paid time off they need to care for their young family. When life begins, we need to be there without worrying about paying the bills.
Since it aired, I’ve been thinking about that segment because the obvious struck me as I watched: When it’s caregiving, it’s not like a maternity leave.
While my insight is obvious to us, I worry that it’s not to them–the employers. I wonder if employers will miss the difference when looking at paid leave benefits. A pregnant employee has a time frame, a countdown to a leave. Of course, nature may change the time but managers and co-workers and clients know that time off is coming. The team makes plans, the co-workers train to be the back-ups, the clients meets their new point of contact.
A caregiving employee, though, can’t know a time frame. Sure, the employee will know the day and time of the next doctor’s appointment. But, the timing of the next crisis remains elusive. A caregiving employee can’t know when the next ER visit will happen, when the next hospitalization will hit, when the next diagnosis will again change care needs.
For that matter, no employee can know if he or she will be the next caregiving employee. One day, your family’s intact. Sometimes, the next day it’s not.
In caregiving, you just don’t know. So, you may not know when to talk with a manager and co-workers about caregiving responsibilities because you hate to over-react and over-share. And, a caregiving story has so many pieces to it. You’re not just expecting a baby in seven months. You’re taking care of your parent who lives 1,000 miles away and refuses to get help so lives in a house that should be condemned. Or, you’re taking care of a spouse who’s multiple chronic illnesses could fill their own medical encyclopedia. Or, you’re taking care of a family member with a serious illness who looks just fine.
I worry a bit that companies will throw expecting a baby and expecting caregiving in the same ring. They won’t fit in the same ring. While they require similar solutions–paid time off–the road to the solution differs greatly. The kind of preparation and flexibility required to help working family caregivers with a paid leave benefit differs greatly than for those expecting a baby.
Caregiving is not like a maternity leave because it’s unexpected, uncontrollable and never-ending (or so it seems). Of course, there is one critical similarity: Paid time off will be just what employees need to care for their families during another fragile time–caregiving.