Caring for a loved one in hospital or being in mourning, does your company have any emotional intelligences to recognize the mental illness you are going through either way?

Today a friend of mine is going through a difficult time. Not only because he worries about a parent in intensive care in a country very far from UK but also because he is running out of holidays entitlement with no much flexibility from his employer.   

 

This situation reminded me of the following article from Josephine Fairley which I thought was worth sharing again…

 

After a Frenchman's colleagues donated 170 days paid leave to him while his son battled with cancer, Josephine Fairley asks if you would ever transfer your holiday to a workmate who needs it more than you.

 

The French do some things so brilliantly well. Wine. Cheese. Fashion. And now this, another reason to tip our chapeaux to our colleagues across the Channel.

 

Because a new law has been passed, enabling workers to donate holiday days of their own to a colleague with a sick child. We're not talking colds and 'flu, here, but the ultimate nightmare for any parent is a child who's sick enough to require surgery, other hospital treatment - even the interminable tests, sometimes half-way across the country (in the case of a rare disease or condition) which seem to go hand-in-small-person's-hand with a family crisis like this.

 

So the French parliament has decreed that workers can now anonymously donate their own annual leave to help co-workers take time off to deal with a seriously ill child. It was inspired by the story of a water-bottling plant worker whose son died of cancer in 2011.

 

Christosphe Germain's co-workers gave up a total of 170 days, so that he could care for his sick son. It's extraordinarily generous, and we can only guess a) at how moved the family must have been, and b) at the difference it made.

 

As a judge of the annual Clarins/ YOU Dynamisante Woman of the Year Award, which offers a £30,000 prize to the female founder of a charity, I've heard first-hand from many mothers/ applicants how the diagnosis of a serious illness impacts on a family. It's often their encounter with a life-threatening illness - which may or may not have claimed their beloved child - which inspires a woman to want something positive to come out of the experience.

 

Time after time, they talk of how one parent has often had to give up work, to deal with the day-to-day practicalities of sick-childcare. Some employers are no doubt more sympathetic than others, offering compassionate leave and even continuing to pay workers who've exhausted their holiday allocation to take care of a child. By law, carers are entitled to ask for part-time hours, time off or flexible working to help deal with their caring duties. But employers can still say no.

 

Regardless, having a sick child often piles on other financial pressures over and above a family's day-to-day living expenses: hospital parking charges, rail fares, special foods.

 

The French solution wouldn't work in every situation - it's fine for larger firms, where there's a bigger pool of potential day-donors, but nigh on impossible when there are just five of you in a start-up, for instance. But having time off, paid and sanctioned by an employer, would undoubtedly make a huge difference, not just financially but in terms of feeling supported.

 

In any case, lots of people regularly forego their annual holiday entitlement in the UK because they cannot find the time to take more time off. Either they give leave up entirely, and it goes to waste, or they scramble to use up remaining days before the year-end cut off period. Might it be a sensible solution to allow workers to transfer what they don't use to others who need it more?

 

In Canada, the picture's somewhat different - but still addresses the challenges faced by parents of a seriously ill child. Parents can take up to 37 weeks off work if their child is critically ill - but the employer isn't required to pay a salary, during leave. Instead, parents can apply for special benefits, which were announced in 2012. To date, just over 2,000 parents have taken advantage of this.

 

One advantage of this particular scheme is that parents can combine care, so long as together their time off doesn't add up to more than 37 weeks off, in a one-year period.

 

And if the worst does happen, and that child dies? Some of those involved with the Canadian scheme report that the workplace support has help to change the experience of that death, for that family - "enabling them really to be present and enjoy the final days and minutes they have with [their] child".

Someone should put this on David Cameron's radar: as the father of a seriously ill and disabled child, who sadly died in 2009, he surely empathises with other parents - and would be the perfect person to place this on the agenda, for government approval.

 

Personally, I'd give up a day or three in a heartbeat. And I think all British businesses should consider allowing staff to do the same.

 

Have the French got it right? Should we be lobbying for a similar scheme in the UK? And most importantly, would you give up a few days' holiday, to help a colleague with a sick child...?

 

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Marie RelutComment