Monday, August 25, 2008

Work, sleep, or family?

Following on from Michelle's comment ...

I hadn't thought about maternity leave. I had a fairly generous entitlement (for Australia), 14 weeks paid and I chose to have 12 months off. There was a 6 year option I could have taken, and in that case I could have swapped with DH as we both had the same employer. So we would have been allowed to have one of us on leave for 6 years, unpaid but our positions would be held. In the end I chose to resign, mainly because I know that as a maths/science teacher in the country I am a rare commodity so I'll always be able to get a job.

In some ways it's, hmmm, annoying? I'm good at my job, I have been studying as well so have a Master's degree, I've done various extra bits of training in staff management and I'm more experienced than 90% of teachers in the type of area we live in. But if I go back I'll still end up at the bottom of the rung and have to start climbing again. So that's part of the reason I'm looking at other jobs. I'm passionate about education, but I feel there are better ways for me to promote better education than being in a classroom.

And it's not luck that we can afford for me to stay home. We have a careful plan for our finances, our lifestyle and our future. Of course it's flexible, but it's something we have worked hard at.

But parental leave and those sorts of choices are only the beginning of the problem. Remember Labour Day? It's not just a holiday, it's meant to celebrate the 40-hour work week. How many people do that today? I don't know actual figures, but I do know that the sorts of hours we work in Australia are actually illegal in Germany. Yes, companies have to have special permission and agreements to work over 40 hour weeks. Most professionals in Australia work at least 50 hour weeks, 70 hours is not unusual. Tradesmen, especially if they are self-employed, work similar hours. Small business owners work pretty much all day every day.

So where are our families? If you're working a 70 hour week you don't have a weekend. You don't have time in the afternoon with your toddlers. There are only so many things you can physically do, so how many of us are making the choice between family and sleep? And why on earth did we decide that work was the most important?

I'm not one to talk, I'm under completely self-inflicted pressure. I am a SAHM to a toddler and a new baby, plus I'm trying to run a business and a couple of blogs, plus I have a plan for the future I want to get started on. I know I'm never going to get it to more than a hobby unless I get serious about time, but I'm not prepared to put my kids into care. So instead of doing the sensible thing, I'm staying up until all hours.

I'm sure a sociologist could give us the answers, it probably has something to do with the 80s and the global recession, plus a hefty dose of the protestant work ethic. And unfortunately the last few months means that it isn't the best time to make decisions that could affect us financially. But maybe it's time for us, as a society, to have a good hard look at our priorities. And the only way I know to do that is for us to start as individuals.


Michelle said...

That's the sort of maternity/paternity leave option I would have liked to have had Deb. DH and I both work for the same company so we potentially would have been able to share care without having to resign.

Our company is also quite good in that we now get 14 weeks paid leave but to be honest its the flexibility of being able to come back to my position that I want more than the paid leave. I'm lucky that at least they were flexible enough to let me work part time.

I sometimes think I should have been a teacher actually. I'm still thinking about it. You guys really don't get paid as much as you should though! (IMO anyway...)

As for it being illegal in Germany, having just come back from there I can say they definitely seem to have a better work-life balance on average. I think there are some problems with their system too (flexibility of the job-market is one) but from a family perspective it is good. It is mostly down to the unionisation of the work force though, not so much laws (from what I can gather). Interestingly the only people working longer hours were the visiting Australians/Indians/Chinese because they weren't restricted in their working hours...

The german maternity/paternity leave system is MUCH more flexible too.

Deb said...

European countries do seem to have a better deal. My sister is in Spain and they seem to go away or go to the countryside all the time - they just have a lot more time than us.
I recently saw the German thing on a TV show and it struck me because it was so different, I didn't see the whole thing. I thought they must have very strong unions.
Do look at teaching - it is a great job to have with kids because of the holidays. But there are a lot of ex-teachers out there. I was told when I started training that you won't survive in this job if you like kids. You will only survive if you love teenagers. It is so true.