Most working parents have been there: You’re in an important meeting, but all you can think about is that it’s almost 4 P.M. and you have to dash out to pick up the kids before rush hour. We all make great sacrifices in the effort to have both a family and a career. We’ve adjusted to the situation, but in every case either our work or our families suffer. We haven’t found a solution to this problem.
Sometimes we ask for help from the grandparents or from other parents, but we really should take up the problem with the agent that can really change the situation — the state.
The first step, which the education and finance ministers have already taken, is adjusting the school vacation schedule to that of workplaces. I have no idea what the country’s founders were thinking when they decided that Israel’s children could fend for themselves for two and a half weeks in the middle of April, but it’s clear that in a modern world, such a situation can’t continue.
The job-parent dysfunction begins when our children are born — with maternity leave. Maternity leave is the most significant time for the baby and its parents (yes, both of them).
In countries that are a little more advanced than Israel, they have already understood the importance of this and provide maternity leave that, in Britain, for example, can last almost a year, in addition to paternity leave. On top of extending the period of the leave, employees should be allowed to return to work gradually, as is the practice at leading companies such as Intel.
The sharp transition from spending all day with a baby to returning to a full-time job is jarring and even traumatic. Studies show that a gradual return to work, initially for a few hours a day and then for a few full days, etc. enables more women to maintain a career in high-tech over time.
Another necessary practical measures involves expanded sick days. There is no avoiding the fact that our children bring home not only challah and sand in their shoes from preschool but also a lot of germs. Parents, particularly younger ones, use up a lot of their sick days over their children’s illnesses. The simple solution, which is also being implemented in many large firms, is allocating separate sick days for when their children are sick.
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The most creative and effective solutions must come from the employers themselves, who must begin changing their approach, shifting to more family-friendly policies.
Studies have shown that there is no connection between employees’ physical presence in the office and their productivity. It is therefore time to eliminate the time clock wherever possible. Flexible working hours can address the needs of parents who prefer to work more during the evening or to leave work early on some days and work longer hours on others.
The directors general of the health and transportations ministries have set an example by instituting a policy of Family Tuesdays, when once a week the work day ends at 4 P.M.
I am confident that dialogue among government ministries and the employers and employees can generate other creative policies that would benefit parents and in turn the entire economy. There are many other things that can be done, but what is lacking is a public outcry. We have become used to relying for so many years on Grandma and Grandpa and in extreme circumstances to leaving work. And even today, most of the burden falls on women, which is another cause of gender inequality in the labor market.
A work world that is more sensitive to family would produce employees who are more satisfied, more efficient and much more devoted. It would also produce happier children who are brought up better. What on the surface looks like an expense is actually an investment that provides almost immediate returns. We only need to start demanding what we deserve.
Galit Levy is a government affairs manager at Intel Israel.