In Between

This weekend my wife and I went on a road trip to visit my parents. This is always a great time because I’m fortunate to have an incredible mom and dad who are vibrant, active and engaging. They’re both in their mid-seventies, so I’m thankful that they’re both doing well.

We actually went on purpose this time for our visit to help them take down their Christmas decorations and put them away in their attic and shed. This was a first for them because they had always done this themselves, but the tide has turned when we now get the opportunity to assist them and take care of them. It didn’t take much effort, and I was glad we were able to help.

As we were driving home, I began to wonder how a simple task today was going to inevitably evolve over time. This is not a “new” subject, but it was the first time it hit home for me personally. I am from a generation that will be taking care of my parents while also having to take care of my kids. Granted, my “kids” are now young adults so there isn’t as much direct care needed, but it’s a fact that is going to be more an more present over time.

This is a workplace issue now, and I don’t know that we acknowledge it well as HR professionals. I hate to be bold, but I think that THIS is the real generational issue that all employers face. Are you prepared to address your employees who are in between taking care of their parents as well as their own family? Is it something you’ve even thought about?

I understand that employers have policies regarding time-off, leaves of absence and Family Medical Leave (FMLA). I’m sure that you’ll follow those according to the parameters that are established. This issue is greater than systems, as most HR issues honestly are.

We need to think outside the systems that we continue to establish to allow for people to care for their parents on a case-by-case basis. Wouldn’t it be a better workplace if we allowed for grace and movement versus containment and compliance? People are already feeling stuck between parental care, their daily work and their family lives at home.

On top of feeling stuck, we can’t come up with a program where one size fits all because no family situation is the same. The days of the “nuclear family” have long passed. You can’t define family relationships the same because no two families are alike. This doesn’t even address whether the relationship between people and their parents. Some may be healthy and others may be challenging.

You have an opportunity to get ahead of this by developing a procedure, not a policy, to allow for people to handle this in a healthy way. You may have employees who are in this situation now, and they are doing their best to make it on their own. Step in and find out how they’re doing and see if there’s a way to give them some flexibility to help their parents.

HR needs to take steps to no longer look for more ways to constrain employees. We need to be the profession that improves the workplace, allows for people to be caring and encourages organizations to see how they can be fantastic environments through all phases of our lives.

I loved helping my parents and look forward to what they coming years bring. I know there will be challenges, but it’s my chance to reciprocate the years of love and investment they’ve made in me. I hope the same for each of you !!

8 thoughts on “In Between”

  1. An interesting perspective on a growing challenging issue for employers and employees.
    Over the years I recall the companies I worked for sought out policies and practices to “control” programs that were providing more options to secure time off for employees.

    I too struggled when we had to tell people that they couldn’t have the time off they needed to deal with issues facing them. But the government and lawyers made it very difficult to do one thing for one employee and something else for another employee with the possibility of discrimination charges being brought against the company.
    As the old song goes, “The times, they are a changing”. I think organizations should take a look at these types of issues and be creative in helping employees out. The other side of the coin of course is dealing with employees who take advantage or abuse programs such as FMLA. That program was aimed at helping employees to deal with illnesses and other situations that would have historically put them in a situation to lose their jobs. Most HR professionals have had to deal with those individuals who figured out how to “beat the system”.

    A big challenge for the profession and I wish you all good luck with it.

  2. I could not agree more. I believe this challenge may have a myriad of solutions and a collaborative effort will be needed to truly make a difference. It is reassuring to see HR and corporate entities recognize the issue. Here’s hoping all can remain open minded to innovative solutions. I would welcome the opportunity to share with both employer and employee the value a patient advocate could afford a struggling, “in-between” family.

  3. Timely and important message for all employers to hear. Did you make the trip back to Ada? I saw your parents’ anniversary announcement and photo in the Ada Herald awhile back and meant to drop you a quick note. Happy new year! Hope all is well.

  4. I love this “Wouldn’t it be a better workplace if we allowed for grace and movement versus containment and compliance?” Too often I find my supervisors wanting to put everyone into the same box and they forget that each situation is different and needs to be evaluated individually. Our HR related procedures cannot be black & white.

  5. It sounds like you and I are similarly positioned generationally. I certainly agree with your premise. I would also add that the situation is “multiplied” vs. previous generations. Two income families are the more common for working and middle class families, potentially removing a potential caregiver from the home. Delays in marriage and child bearing mean younger kids for the caregiver generation. Fewer Gen X children overall mean fewer caregivers to go around. And increased life expectancy statistically means there is potentially a longer twilight period when care is needed. All of these exacerbate the situation you describe, and make it incumbent on HR professionals and company leaders to help address the situation. “Policies” and government mandates can’t (and probably shouldn’t) solve all these situations as they arise.

  6. Steve, this is an insightful article that shares a perspective not many HR leaders are thinking about. I’ve seen employees take FMLA to care for their parents and then struggle with time off to be with their kids.

  7. Great article and advice Steve! Taking the lead on creating solutions for the workplace of the future is one of the many places that where the HR profession needs to shine!

  8. I feel this is a great topic that needs to be discussed. There are so many employees who have families to take care of and are forced to choose between work and family. So many women are limited in the workplace because they choose employment that will allow them to have time to take care of family if needed. Unfortunately, those jobs do not pay much and there is no paid time off. The flexibility is there but not the wages.

    There should be new policies implemented to address specific needs. It is true, not all families are the same. Every situation is different as is every employee. Organizations need to think of employees as people and production would go more smoothly. HUMAN resources/relations is important.

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