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Labour vs. love: negotiating leave to care for family

My child is sick – again. How can I take time off work without rocking the boat?

Asking for a leave of absence can be difficult, especially if it is a recurring situation. We spoke to two job experts to help you navigate through this potentially sticky situation. Use these tips to keep your family and your boss happy.

1. Less is more

Most of us find it hard to ask for a leave of absence without over-explaining our reasons for requesting it. The best plan of action is to be frank without getting into too many details. “Often when people disclose too much, it’s because they’re worried whether the situation will be perceived as legitimate,” advises Ms. Shirin Khamisa, head coach and career counsellor at Careers by Design in Toronto. Ironically, saying too much can have the reverse effect, and you can end up sounding like you are making up excuses. Instead, Ms. Khamisa suggests you simply ask for what you are entitled to: “Take into account your company’s [leave] policies and play by the rules.”

2. Get rid of guilt

“According to the 2001 Duxbury and Higgins study*, 61% of Canadian professional workers experience high levels of role overload,” states Ms. Khamisa. Demands placed on us at work and at home may leave most of us feeling pulled in different directions. “Guilt is an emotion that arises when you feel that you are not living up to other people’s standards,” she explains. Instead, decide how much you can afford to give (at home and at work) without selling yourself short. Strike a balance that’s right for you – and leave the guilty feelings behind. If you feel comfortable with your request for time off, you’ll do a better job of presenting it to your employers.

3. Create a game plan

Be ready to present your superior a game plan for dealing with your time away. “I would express my understanding of the additional stress this might place on my boss and colleagues. I would also have suggestions for how my work can be taken care of while reducing any negative impact on productivity,” suggests Ken Zaborniak, career advisor with Rockhurst Careers Group in Ottawa. You might want to create a list of tasks that you can do from home (see next bullet) while defining what responsibilities might have to be passed on to colleagues because of your situation. It’s a matter of being proactive.

4. Work from home

This option is becoming more common in the workforce and it may be a viable solution depending on the work involved. “Some employers support job sharing and work-at-home policies. You might check these out if this [time away] is a continuing situation,” says Mr. Zaborniak. “Most bosses have families of their own and will be sympathetic as long as the situation does not become abusive to the employer by running to excess,” he reasons.

*Study funded by Health Canada.

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