Saturday, August 15, 2015

Our Parents Need Time Too. Indian Companies, are you Listening?
I smile as I read the recent news of companies like Microsoft, Netflix and Adobe, instituting inclusive (and what to most Indians will look like very benevolent) leave policies for new parents.  

Unlimited / Generous Paternity Leave Announced

These companies have recognized that there is a need for both parents, male and female, to take time off from work when they have a new baby.  Or adopt one.  Or become a foster parent.  They recognize that to retain highly valued talent, they need to help them tide over the critical 1st year of a baby by being very generous with the leave that they can avail.  And they have made these policies inclusive by enabling men to take time off when they have a new baby in the family. 

There are of course, Indian companies or subsidiaries of MNCs who have paternity leave that range from a pathetic 2 days to a couple of weeks.  But the companies that are listed above have taken this to another level. 

And this makes me smile.  

Finally, diversity is not all about exclusive programs for women, but inclusive programs (albeit skewed more towards women).  Will this policy attract and retain good people? On the face of it, yes. And please, do give them a chance. I believe that it will work and it is something to celebrate.

Paternity Leave is great.  But what about Elder Care Leave?

July 2015: Anna sleeps in Delhi heat and humidity
during the 5 hours it took @CGHS
to apply to transfer his card to Delhi
Then I start thinking about the care of the elderly.  I have often said that looking after an elderly person, and that too one with a degenerative disease, like my father’s, is akin to looking after a child.  

Whereas with a child, parents live with the joy and hope that soon their child will grow and become more independent, there is no such joy and hope for a person who looks after an elderly patient parent/s.  The parent/s will become more frail and dependent till finally death takes them.  A child will live with parents for many, many years but an elderly patient parent will be with us for only a short time.

So why, I ask, have no companies, or governments for that matter thought of instituting “Parent Care Leave”? Leave that I could have availed to look after my father, who has Parkinson’s Disease, Dementia, & Diplopia, vs giving up a full time job.  Leave that I could have used to ensure that I spend quality time with my father vs spending ~4 hours travelling each day to and from Gurgaon.   Leave that I can avail when my father is rushed to hospital and needs care.  Leave that would enable me to manage the financial constraints that not earning puts on a family, especially when I am the only earning member.

Using Parent Care Leave

Since 2011, I have not had a vacation. All my leave days have been used in visiting and caring my father when he was with my siblings and then looking after him when he moved to Delhi in 2014. 

Anna (in yellow) with his younger brother
(KV Krishnamurthy in blue),
Anna's housekeeper & attendant (in green)
In 2014, I brought my father to Delhi to take over care-giving from my siblings. I had to set up a separate, fully functional flat for him.  I was working a full-time job then and had to take PL (privileged leave)and Casual Leave (CL) to fly to Bangalore, pack up and transport his household to Delhi.  Not to mention the many hours after work and two marathon weekends, unpacking and setting up the house.  Hours and days finding him household help, attendants, doctors, therapists, et al. 

I couldn’t relax on a weekend or take a day’s vacation, as I needed the leave to fly him to Delhi, settle him in, and reserve some days for potential hospital stays.  And there were hospital stays, midnight emergencies, hallucinations and delusions that had to be managed on the phone.  All while spending a minimum of 12.5 hours on travel and work.  Not to mention looking after my home and my husband’s elderly parents, who are 91 and 80 respectively.

So, in the end I stopped working.  There was no other choice. There is only so much I could do in a 24-hour day.  And when the choice came down to working or looking after 2 homes and 3 elderly people, I chose care-giving.  It was a no-brainer. 

I thought that I would take a few months off, settle things down and then re-join the workforce.  Wishful thinking, at it’s best!  A new job, meant new commitments, proving myself over again, longer hours, travel, etc.  

Added to this, is the fact that with the elderly there is no predictability.  An upset stomach can send someone to the hospital and time to recover could be 5 times longer than it is for someone in their 50s.  So in the end I decided against a full-time job.  I decided to do something that would give me energy - consulting in areas of interest and coaching organization leaders.   

Tho’ this is my unique challenge, I believe that parent care is going to be a real problem in a few years.  The great “demographic dividend”, that we talk about so proudly today, will become our country’s super senior citizens in 35 years.  Already, nine states in India have lower fertility rates than the highly developed countries of the world i.e. lower than 2.1 which is considered the replacement rate.  Our old age dependency ratio will nearly triple from 13% in 2000 to 32.8% in 2050 i.e. 1 of every 3 working Indians will have to take care of an elderly person by 2050.

While the government is still wrapping its arms around how to get the maximum benefit from the great demographic dividend, I hope they will think of changes to our healthcare and wellness programs to manage a large elderly population. 

But, let’s not leave everything in the hands of a government.  Can some forward-thinking company look at how to retain some of its most experienced people (normally in their 50s), by helping them take time off to look after the same parents who got leave when the child (me & you) were born?

I am asking for the institution of Parent Care Leave. 

That’s not outrageous.  It’s just reality.