a rare bird – family-friendly work environments

I was pregnant with all three of my children when I was working full-time for a health organization.  My first pregnancy was in 1993, and I had an awesome director who was ahead of her time in the days of six months maternity leave.  She accepted (even celebrated) the fact I was pregnant – I remember her visiting my bedside at home when I broke my leg while seven months pregnant, she accommodated my massive belly and crutches when I returned to work, and happily attended my baby shower after my son was born.  

The next two experiences, working on different projects in health, were not as great.  When I was five months pregnant with my second child, I asked for time off for a short vacation.  I was told, “I’d get plenty of time off when the baby was born.”  Then, just 11 years ago, with my third child, a work environment became so hostile when I announced my pregnancy that I quit two months later, and did not ever consider coming back.  I became another employee lost to the world of freelancing.

This odd attitude towards pregnant women in the workplace extends out to mothers and fathers.  Ishani Ganguli eloquently expresses the challenges of being a new mom in medicine in her Healthy Debate essay.

Family friendly is not just for people with children.  We all come with some sort of family, kids or not – and workplace flexibility needs to occur for all sorts of caregiving – partners, parents, siblings, friends.  Monique Lanoix writes a piece in Impact Ethics entitled, Family Caregivers in Canada:  Prognosis Poor, which challenges the notions that family caregivers are invisible, and unpaid.

Family friendly policy is not enough – it must be demonstrated in the way we treat people.  Do I eye roll and heavy sigh when moms cancel meetings because they have a sick kid to care for?  I dearly hope not.  Do I always have back-up plans to cover for each other if a colleague becomes unavailable, for any reason at all?  Yes I do.  Do you have to book off because of surgery?  Gosh, I should be understanding of that, and I will check up on how you are doing, too.

I want to work with people, not robots.  Workplaces need to recognize that life is complex.  Stuff happens.  Women get pregnant.  People go for surgery.  Beloved pets die.  My specialist’s office isn’t open in the evenings.  Parents go for chemo.  Kids get sick.  Most of all, health organizations should have healthy work environments.  How can we care for others if we aren’t being cared for ourselves?





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