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Recently, I’ve been researching what North American companies are doing for new mothers and, to be honest, my findings were extremely depressing. Articles about women working at the “top 100 companies for working mothers” were just sad. Highlights included being able to carve out time for the family between 5:30 and 8:00 p.m. and having the freedom to fly back and forth from a conference to a daughter in the hospital.
Don’t get me started on how far behind the US is on maternity leave. Stories about Deloitte and IBM providing new mothers with services for packing and shipping breast milk when traveling are framed as victories for new mothers. There are even Babies-at-Work programs where parents can work alongside their newborn baby for the first six months!
I don’t remember the last time ‘good news’ annoyed me so much.
My issue is not about women wanting to ship breast milk or a mother choosing to fly back and forth after her daughter had surgery, but the fact that the expectations of today’s employees and leaders are so far reaching that this is a decision they NEED to make. Yes, moms should work less so they can have time with their families, but I believe EVERYONE should work less. Numerous countries have proved it to be possible.
There’s a great deal been written about Danish and Scandinavian work-life balance and the introduction of trial six-hour workdays in Sweden. Maria Brath, of the tech company, Brath, believes that the policy has led to better-rested employees and helped the company attract and retain top talent.
In Michael Moore’s Where to Invade Next, he looks at the Italian work-life balance and the value placed on vacation time as well as meals spent with family. Italy’s vacation policy is reflective of much of Europe. Germans, for example, get 34 paid days off per year.
European countries are not the only ones who value time away from work; Brazilian employees get 30 days off per year, and New Zealanders get 31 days. This contrasts with the US where there is no legal guarantee of paid leave. This was a huge shock to my system when I moved there from the UK (with 28 paid days) in 2001. I’m now living in Canada which is somewhere between the two, with 16 days per year (leaving plenty of room for improvement!)
Time off is not the only problem. According to Gallup, adults in the US with full-time jobs work an average of 47 hours a week – that’s the equivalent to 6-days a week!
There have been many times in my husband’s life where hasn’t been able to see much of our three children, other than at weekends. He works in tech, and that industry has made some work-life balance advances, but there’s still a huge proportion of men and women who are not able to see their families during daylight hours for months at a time.
This did turn into a bit of a rant! I’m a sunny side up person, and I know there have been huge improvements in various industries and specific companies, but change is coming too slowly, and I don’t think waiting an entire generation for people to have a chance to actually LIVE outside of work is good enough.
How about we all aim to make a small change this year – whether it’s advocating for more flexible work hours, finding an alternative to a weekly, but unproductive 3-hour meeting or making a week-long conference optional rather than compulsory. The more inroads we all make, the quicker we can approach more fulfilling and meaningful lives.
- Women In The Workforce: Why There’s More to the Glass Ceiling Problem, Unblog, 2017
- Balancing the Work Life Ledger, Working Mother, 2016
- http://www.workingmother.com/Top-10-squeezing-life-into-the-workday, Squeezing Life Into the Workday, Working Mother, 2016
- What do working German women have that Canadians don’t? Lots of help from above, Globe and Mail, 2017
21st Century Work is Killing You, Thrillist, 2015
- Company allows employees to bring newborns to work … every day, ABC10, 2016
IBM will make it easy for new moms to ship home breast milk for free while traveling, Washington Post, 2015
- World’s Most Paid Vacation Days: Europe Guarantees Most Paid Leave For Workers, Worldpost, 2013
- No-Vacation Nation Revisited, Center for Economic and Policy Research, 2013
- List of minimum annual leave by country, Wikipedia