This New Policy Would Transform Workplaces — For the Better

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An idea that would make working parents’ lives so much easier.

Here’s an idea for companies that say they care about working parents: What about creating Care Days? They’re not Personal Days, or even Sick Days. And they’re certainly not Vacation Days. Care Days would allow employees to tell co-workers why they’re actually out. Most employees wouldn’t take all of them, unless they really needed them. And companies that go first would be putting action behind words.

So what are these Care Days? I’m not completely reinventing HR policy here, but they’d be days designed for caregiving emergencies. My organization, The Company of Dads, is focused on fathers stepping up as caregivers, just as working moms have done forever. But these Care Days would be for the entire workforce and could be used to benefit those with children, elderly parents, or anyone who needs to be cared for. And they’d be helping employees fulfill their full potential.

I’m writing about this now because we’ve been plagued by a string of bad luck on “lucky” days. In the past three weeks, we’ve had a 14-year-old cat pass away, a toddler projectile vomit all over her room, and a family crisis over rehoming a dog. How could these events be lucky? Each one crashed down on the weekend.

That meant we could cancel our weekend plans and focus on our family without work worry: There was no call or Zoom we had to cancel. And no juggle between family and work obligations. But, man, that was luck — like an inside straight in poker. Amazing when it comes, but not anything you can count on.

The Care Days I’m proposing would give employees the option to be honest. You’re taking this day because you need to care for a family member. You’re not sick, you don’t have any personal issues to attend to, and you’re not on vacation.

Why now? It could be seen as a natural extension of the maternity and paternity leave discussion. Despite even the most generous policies in the U.S., there’s still a need for Care Days. They’d be useful for at least 18 years in an employee’s life — and that’s not accounting for the existence of elderly parents.

Do people who don’t have caregiving responsibilities get shafted by this concept? In the short term, maybe; long term, no. If you’re a Chief Human Resources Officer trying to institute equitable policies, it may seem like a challenge to offer a benefit that’s primarily directed at parents. But I’d argue that a 25-year-old with few caregiving responsibilities will benefit later from instituting care policies now. Of course, Care Days are a short-term form of crisis support — and their existence doesn’t relieve the mental load of caregiving that extends way beyond the crisis.

Sitting at the pediatrician on Monday at 7:45 AM, here for the doctor’s one walk-in day after my kid’s weekend-long stomach bug, I was grateful that I’m my own boss — and that my wife runs her own company, too. But me being on the clock still came down to her first call being at 9:15, and mine being at 10 AM. It’s all just part of the juggle.

Paul Sullivan, a former New York Times columnist, is the founder of The Company of Dads, the first media company and community platform aimed at Lead Dads — men who are the go-to parents at home and supporters of women at work.