May 4, 2009
How the swine flu scare can monkey with your work/life balance
If you're more concerned with what swine flu could mean for your bank account or job security than your health, you're not alone.
For many employees, the federal directive that those with flu-like symptoms stay home from work and King County's latest directive that flu-ish kids and teachers do the same -- for an entire week -- are easier said than done.
Witness this assortment of work/life dilemmas that the latest pandemic scare has brought to light:
Lack of paid sick days. For the 57 million U.S. workers with no paid sick leave, calling in sick means losing a day of pay and quite possibly jeopardizing their job. As the Associated Press reported last week, "A study on sick leave found that 68 percent of those without paid sick days had gone to work with a contagious illness like the flu or a viral infection. And one of six workers reported that they or a family member had been fired, suspended, punished or threatened with firing after taking time off to care for themselves or a family member..."
Think the college student, single parent, or laid-off exec working as a minimum wage cashier isn't your problem? Wrong.
As the AP writes, "Those least likely to have sick leave are low-income workers, particularly in fields like food services, child care and the hotel industry -- in other words, the people you most want to be staying home if they're sick."
Low tolerance for telecommuting. Business research firm Forrester Research recently reported that more than 34 million U.S. adults now telecommute from time to time.
Granted, not every job is conducive to telecommuting. (See above.) But for the countless organizations that conduct a majority of their business online, having an emergency telecommuting plan in place for pandemic scares, freaky weather, and the like would be a boon to productivity.
To the U.S. businesses who have yet to let their employees join the telecommuting ranks, Harvard Business School Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter suggests making it "the norm for everyone to work at home at least one day a week." As Moss Kanter wrote in a recent blog post, "That single step could raise productivity, save energy, decrease pollution, reduce traffic congestion, cut household expenses, increase quality of family life, and keep educated women in the work force."
Need for last-minute childcare. Without ample sick days or telecommuting privileges, figuring out who'll watch the kids for a week if their school sends them home for fear of swine flu has put parents in a bit of a scheduling and financial pickle. After all, not everyone has retired relatives who can play nanny at the drop of the hat.
Even if you do get a handful of sick days a year, you probably don't want to burn through five of them for the suspicious sniffle that got your kid sent home for a week. And working from home with kids underfoot -- especially sick ones -- is often easier said than done.
Readers, what's your take on the topic? Regardless of whether you think the swine flu scare is overblown, I'd love to hear whether it's presented any work/life balance problems for you. If so, what creative ways have you found to deal with your sick day, flex work, or child care dilemmas?
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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