Waging war on the sickie may be a lost cause

first_imgOn average, children miss 10 days of school a year throughillness, leaving parents with the dilemma of having to ‘throw a sickie’ inorder to care for themAs a mother of three, the Patricia Amos case captured my interest. The children skived school and their mother was imprisoned as a consequence.I am sure many working parents looked at their own children and wondered: arethey as virtuous as they appear? Clearly, the Amos case is extreme, but it does force a rethink of the wholeissue of working parents and childcare. We all know children play truant, but what is surprising is the sheer scaleof the problem in the UK. Recent research shows that 50,000 children a day skipschool. Frequently, my own children will try to wheedle a day off school, but I amfortunate in that I deal with nothing more serious than a reluctance to attenddouble French and the problem is resolved with a stern look. However, for many parents, coping with work and school-age children is farmore complex. Gordon Brown has officially launched a war on the ‘sickie’ – the CIPD claimsthat staff absenteeism is costing employers £13bn a year. While this is morelikely to be triggered by the after effects of alcohol than double French, theimpact for the employer is equally serious. Children are absent from school for 10 days a year on average, and parentshave little recourse – aside from holiday leave – to ask their employer fortime off. My three children attend different schools, meaning my husband and I sharejoint responsibility for school plays, swimming galas, sports days, etc. With all our children over the age of five, neither of us, according to theDepartment of Trade and Industry, can ask for parental leave. We have ourholiday entitlement and, fortunately for us, understanding employers. If we did not, we would each have 25 days holiday to cover theseresponsibilities, family holidays and illness. How would we cope with the unexpected, individual day off? Probably with asickie. Suzanne Braun Levinne, author of Father Courage: What Happens When Men PutFamily First, conducted research with 50 American working fathers to see howthey dealt with juggling family and work life; the results were alarming. All fathers expressed reluctance to use employers’ parental programs –typically they would take holiday or sick days to spend time with theirchildren. They didn’t want to ask for parental benefits because they feared itwould make them appear less ambitious or dedicated to the job. This is a mind-set which I believe is also prevalent in the UK. A recentsickness absence survey revealed that family responsibilities contribute to 37per cent of staff absences. It shows that employers should not underestimate the relationship betweenchildcare responsibilities and staff absenteeism. As a national UK workforce, we still remain some distance away from the‘family friendly’ ideal that we strive so desperately to achieve. Only byviewing childcare – either through vouchers or assistance – as a core benefitwithin the UK market, will employers be able to say that truancy, childsickness and school meetings have little or no impact on their bottom line. Employers must communicate more with staff and acknowledge the childcaredilemma. They should also recognise the problem of a working father’sreluctance to own up to the impact of family demands on their work-lifebalance. Meetings where parents can comfortably voice and discuss theirconcerns should be set up and encouraged. On top of this, employers should be creative and innovative about workstyles by introducing flexitime and childcare vouchers for both male and femaleworkforces. But currently, with precious few viewing childcare as little more than anice, soft benefit, Gordon Brown may well be fighting a losing battle as hesquares up to the sickie. By Alison Cantle, a marketing director of Sodexho PASS Waging war on the sickie may be a lost causeOn 9 Jul 2002 in Personnel Today Comments are closed. Previous Article Next Article Related posts:No related photos.last_img read more