Working parents using sick leave to care for unwell kids

Published 20 June 2024 | 3 min read

In today's fast-paced world, Kiwi parents often find themselves juggling work and family responsibilities, especially when their children fall ill. According to a recent report by Frog Recruitment, a significant number of working parents in New Zealand are choosing to use their sick leave to care for their unwell children instead of opting to work from home. This trend raises important questions and concerns for businesses, especially in light of the recent changes in sick leave entitlements.

Kids getting sick and parents using sick leave

The challenge of balancing work commitments and family needs becomes particularly acute when children get sick. The Frog Recruitment survey, which gathered responses from 969 working parents, revealed that 46% of these parents use their sick leave to care for their unwell children. Another 41% manage caregiving duties by working from home, while 13% rely on friends and family for support. These statistics highlight a critical issue for employers as they navigate the complexities of workforce management.

Survey findings and statistics

The survey findings further illustrate the strain on parents and businesses. It was found that despite the availability of remote work options, many parents prefer to use their sick leave entitlements for caregiving. This choice is often driven by the inability to effectively multitask when a child needs full attention. Surprisingly, the increase in sick leave days to 10 per year, introduced by the government in 2021, has not led to widespread abuse as initially feared by employers.

Is sick leave being misused?

When the New Zealand government doubled the sick leave entitlements in 2021, many employers were concerned about potential abuse. However, the survey results suggest otherwise. Half of the respondents used three days or less of their sick leave in the past year, while 21% used more than ten days. This responsible use of sick leave shows that employees are not taking undue advantage of the increased entitlements, contrary to initial fears.

The responsible use of sick leave by employees can have several positive outcomes for businesses. Trust between employers and employees is strengthened, leading to higher morale and productivity. Moreover, allowing parents to take care of their sick children without the stress of working remotely ensures that they can return to work more focused and effective. This approach can reduce burnout and improve overall workplace wellbeing.

How to prepare for the changes and support employees

To navigate these changes effectively, businesses can adopt several strategies:

  1. Flexible work arrangements: Offering flexible work options can help parents manage their responsibilities without compromising on their work commitments.
  2. Clear policies and communication: Clear communication about sick leave policies and support available for working parents can foster a supportive work environment.
  3. Wellness programs: Implementing wellness programs that address the health and wellbeing of employees and their families can be beneficial.
  4. Pro-rating sick leave: The proposed pro-rating of sick leave could be a sensible approach for part-time workers, ensuring fairness and reducing unexpected staffing shortages.

The findings from Frog Recruitment’s survey highlight a significant trend among working parents in New Zealand: the preference to use sick leave for caregiving. While this presents challenges for businesses, it also offers opportunities to build a more supportive and flexible work environment.

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