Stop complaining about ‘slacking’ working parents

There’s an article doing the rounds of social media at the moment about parents skiving off work and leaving their childfree colleagues to pick up the slack. I paraphrase, but you get the gist.

A few of my friends have shared this piece of what feels like parent-bashing propaganda. But the assertions seem to me to be flimsy at best.

Parents are at a disadvantage when it comes to workplace slacking. Generally, we are slacking for a specific, child-related purpose. We have to leave to pick someone up, watch someone do something or tend to someone who is ill.

All of these are very hard to conceal. You notice when a parent is out of the office looking after their child, or has a set time to leave. They might even have had to have these conversations with their employer when they were first hired.

Compare that to the slacking of non-parents. I have worked with countless people who have arrived at work half-asleep, sometimes not even in their work clothes. They have a coffee at their desk, maybe get through a bowl of cereal, and quietly surf Facebook in that mid-afternoon time when motivation wanes.  I’ve worked with younger guys who have openly complained about being sub-par because of a hangover, and one who even tried to tempt young women in the office down to a couch on an abandoned floor of the building for regular “breaks”.

But then, because they are still at their desks at 5pm when the parent workers are having to get ready to leave, they feel virtuous about the long hours they are putting in – even if they are catching up on work they could have been doing during the day.

I know of one woman whose (predominantly male) colleagues rolled their eyes at her having to leave at 4pm each day – after starting at 8am. They all made it known that they stuck around until at least 5pm. But one day when she had to work late she discovered that between 4pm and 5pm they were not all diligently working but instead had their jackets on the back of their chairs, talking about sport.

I don’t know if you have tried it, but there is no incentive to get work done that is quite as effective as knowing you only have a limited number of hours until you’re back into child-wrangling. I would suggest there are few people more productive than a working mother who knows that anything she does not get done in the office is going to have to be done with small people around – or she’ll have to work until late, after they have gone to bed.

If I am going to listen to you talk about your big nights out, or cover you when you go on holiday or sit through meetings where we talk about literally nothing while I watch my to-do list get bigger by the minute, you can keep your complaints to yourself if sometimes I am not in the office at the time you would expect.

Quite apart from all this, there’s the social good of flexible working and understanding colleagues and employers. If we want to close the gender pay gap and get more women into management positions, we need to be more understanding of people’s lives outside work. Too often caring is written off as something to be embarrassed about having to do, whether that’s care of someone who’s sick, a child or an elderly relative.

Making parents feel bad about balancing the juggle serves no purpose except to add to the burden of someone’s (already significant) mum guilt. Parents already worry constantly about who they are letting down when they are trying to be everything to everyone.  You can bet the people who haven’t been productive today because of one too many Coronas last night aren’t sitting around fretting about it.

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