Juggling family life - how leave doesn’t add up
What the hell was that? As a parent with a child in school for the first time I have just withstood a round of what I suspect will become the regular school holiday juggle.
After taking one week’s leave the battle-plans were laid out: a day with said child in the office, play dates lined up, grandparents locked in – and then she gets sick meaning the fragile house of cards came tumbling down.
It’s a simple rule of math really, schoolkids have around 12 weeks of holidays each year while their parents average four - that’s a lot of time when households are juggling care.
While we place due emphasis of providing leave when kids are born, structurally our annual leave provisions seem totally at odds with the reality of modern parenting.
As a bit of parenting therapy, we asked what people thought about annual leave in our latest Essential Report. The results follow:
While the majority of Australians are happy with four weeks leave, for the young and the encumbered it is a different story.
First the parents – 42 per cent say they would like more time off, a clear sign they are feeling the holiday squeeze.
What was striking though was that younger workers, those at the beginning of their working life – also hanker more time off. This is consistent with the stereotypes of Gen Y slackers, but probably has more to do with the way we approach modern working lives.
The early days of employment are a bit like modern relationships – you start off casual looking for a long-term commitment. During these years you try things, you travel, you pursue projects to realise passions.
Then at some point, somewhere in your thirties, the music stops and you want some security in your job and four weeks leave becomes part of your reality.
I think the stories of parents and young ‘uns are part of a broader challenge that our workplace faces – and it goes beyond the issue of four weeks leave.
While the nature of work has changed dramatically, the cookie cutter notion of universal standards remains the norm.
Take Long Service Leave, the employer sponsored sabbatical that a worker theoretically gets after ten years’ service. Long Service Leave is a reality for fewer and fewer workers as we move to a mobile and often contract based existence.
Does this mean none of us deserves a Sabbatical to retrain, some extra time off in those difficult early school years or just recharge during our working life?
Building workers, long tied to project-based work don’t think so: for decades they have run a Long Service Leave fund where employers pay in entitlements that are held for ten years and can then be accessed by the worker.
This sort of flexible thinking could be a guide for other sections of the workforce. – the creation of savings funds that allow workers to store money that can be accessed when they need leave the most.
For young workers it may be about putting part of their wage in a pool to allow them to travel; for parents it could involve building up a leave bank; for older workers it could be a chance for a break to retrain.
We actually have the tools to run such a scheme at our disposal already – it’s called our superannuation fund – yes, the legals could be messy, but there is no reason why the purpose of these funds could not be extended to improve our working lives before we retire.
The notion that everyone has a job for life is long gone – similar thinking on access to entitlements is long overdue.
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