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Time to give working parents a break

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Meghann Foye, author of the novel Meternity, recently stirred up controversy, by writing in New York Post that she felt “envious when parents on staff left the office at 6 p.m. to tend to their children, while it was assumed co-workers without kids would stay behind to pick up the slack.”

The 38-year-old felt she deserves “me-ternity” leave to relax, which she defines as “a sabbatical-like break that allows women and, to a lesser degree, men to shift their focus to the part of their lives that doesn’t revolve around their jobs.”

Countering her point was New York Post writer Kyle Smith, who pointed out that “wanting to order a case of chardonnay and settle in to binge-watch the new season of ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt'” did fall in the same category as “having had your body split open by a screaming, red, nightmare-lump of writhing humanity.”

He was not impressed by Foye’s logic, adding that working parents should be crediting with nurturing the next generation of taxpayers, “who will be funding the retirement of people like the childless/childish Meghann Foye.”

While both writers had their share of followers and opponents, the debate in itself is an interesting one, as it explores an issue quite relevant to Hong Kong.

Funding the retirement of current working professionals through the next generation of tax payers is beside the point in Hong Kong, given that retirees get no more than a few hundred bucks of fruit money (what the Old Age Allowance colloquially known as) as their retirement fund.

In my personal view, local parents certainly wouldn’t mind if their childless co-workers “fetch us lattes daily and offer to do light housekeeping,” as Kyle Smith writes, as they (we) in Hong Kong could certainly use more support.

If you are a new parent in Sweden, you will enjoy more than a year of parental leave. If you live in the United Kingdom, you and your spouse are entitled to 50 weeks of leave. But in Hong Kong, new mothers get 10 weeks of leave and fathers – a mere three days.

And even for these three days, considerable resistance came from small and medium-sized enterprises when the city amended parental leave policies for new fathers.

Do bosses think letting employees worry about their children while they are working in the office is good for their motivation and engagement?

From 1 May this year, HSBC began offering new mothers an increase in paid maternity leave from 12 weeks to 14 weeks. Paternity leave was extended from one week to two weeks.

The city certainly needs more employers like that.

However, to create a family-friendly workplace, merely offering leave is not enough.

For parents nothing is more worrying than leaving their sick kids at home. Even with a domestic helper attending to them, fathers and mothers would prefer to be by their side.

More employers should consider providing parents in Hong Kong the option to work from home in case their children are not feeling well. I believe in caring for their employees in this way, they will find convincing evidence that it goes a long way in retaining and attracting talent.

The technology for employees to report to work remotely is readily available, but the bigger challenge perhaps is for employers to accept the fact that their team members are not in the office.

Image: 123RF

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Anthony Wong

Human Resources Magazine Hong Kong
Anthony Wong oversees the editorial content for Human Resources in Hong Kong for print, online and social media. He is responsible for reporting and analysing the most relevant HR trends in Hong Kong as well as growing Human Resources readership in Hong Kong through online and print product and industry events, conferences and award ceremonies. Prior to joining Lighthouse Independent Media in July 2015, Wong spent seven years as a senior reporter in South China Morning Post specialising in reports on the local job market and education industry.

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