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Does Having a Family Mean Getting Fired?

By Kara Baskin

Yippee, more statistics to reinforce the constant roil of working-parent guilt! Yesterday came news that nearly half of all working parents fear that family responsibilities could get them fired. This is according to a survey released by Bright Horizons Family Solutions, a child-care provider based in Watertown. Check out this disturbing graphic accompanying the survey:


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According to their findings, compiled via an online poll of more than 1,000 working parents, workers sometimes cut corners to get by, and they're terrified of being discovered. (I know, I know. This comes as a shock to any working parent!) From the survey:

Employees today remain just as nervous to bring up a number of key family-related issues (51 percent) as some important work related problems (52 percent) with their employers.

Nearly a quarter (23 percent) of working parents admit to lying or bending the truth to their boss about family responsibilities that get in the way of work.

Almost one-in-three (31 percent) have faked being sick to meet family obligations.

Close to four-in-10 (39 percent) admit that one of the things they would be nervous to tell their boss is that they need to miss a work event for a family commitment.

More than half (56 percent) report that one of the topics they would hesitate to ask their boss about is reducing hours, working remotely or placing boundaries on responding to calls or emails.

Surveys like this help underscore the plight of working parents who feel caught between a rock and a hard place. People need to make money, many people want to have children, the two shouldn't be mutually exclusive.

The vicious cycle has gotten plenty of attention lately. A few days ago, President Obama held a "summit" to discuss the issue. “These problems are not typically the result of poor planning or too little diligence on the parts of moms and dads, and they cannot just be fixed by working harder or being an even better parent. All too often they are the result of outdated policies and old ways of thinking. ... Family leave, child care, workplace flexibility, a decent wage — these are not frills," he said.

But they will remain frills until we actually flip the burden onto employers. If only someone would conduct an in-depth survey of managers probing what's really going through their minds when they deny someone leave, or refuse to allow telecommuting even when it doesn't impede performance, or why they become angry when an otherwise devoted employee needs time off for an inevitable doctor's appointment. Is it a superiority complex? A devotion to work at all costs that renders them incapable of empathy? Muddled management skills? Where's the disconnect?

We hear a lot about what employees fear. We also hear quite a bit from companies that claim to be family-friendly. Some certainly are, but clearly many aren't. Maybe it's time to ask: What do employers fear when it comes to implementing family-friendly policies? Then, maybe, we could actually make productive changes that appease both sides.

The Boston College Center for Work and Family Life is doing important research on workplace flexibility; check it out here.

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