Should Parents Get More Time Off Over the Holidays?

Christmas is fast approaching, which means that many of us will be looking forward to spending time with our loved ones.

However, when it comes to securing those much-coveted holiday dates, should colleagues with children get priority in booking time off?

Well, the topic is one of fierce debate, and it recently came to light via a post on discussion-based site Mumsnet on November 30.

A woman, whose account name is KwestTurkey, shared her opinion that parents should not "be given priority when it comes to time off on any holiday, be it summer or Christmas etc."

She went on to state that, a parent herself, she had experienced this favoritism towards co-workers with kids, writing: "I think if someone childfree has gotten there with the request before you then that's tough. Same with Christmas, if you work a job that requires Christmas working, I don't think it's fair to allow the same people off every Christmas year in year out."

Naturally the post, which has received near to 1,000 comments, was divisive among the forum of primarily mothers.

Many agreed with the poster's views, including a Mumsnet user by the name of Audweb, who argued: "Being a parent is my choice. It's not for that choice to impact on other peoples ability to take annual leave. If you have to work holidays you have to find childcare, just the way it is."

However, other accountholders lamented the difficulties of balancing working life with motherhood, such as Glassofshloer.

She stated that while in theory she agreed with the woman, "we live in a country/world where the vast majority of mothers cannot afford to NOT work, yet school is 9-3, term-time only. Unless you're lucky enough to have a retired grandparent who is happy and capable to look after the children, what is the alternative?"

In the U.S. holiday entitlement is not mandatory, but on average workers receive around 10 days of paid holiday every year.

While allocating this fairly to suit everyone's needs can, of course, be a struggle, should parents, who have others relying on them, take priority?

Tina Miller, professor of Sociology at Oxford Brookes University, believes that sometimes the answer is yes.

However, she tells Newsweek that the question should be reframed, stating: "If we'd designed the workplace by asking how do we fit family lives with paid work, we'd have a very different understanding and perspective on questions of apparent 'preferential treatment in terms of booking time off.'"

She adds that the best work places should "recognize and accommodate" the caring needs of parents, and other staff, and that sometimes these "need to be prioritized."

Certainly, when employers do not offer flexibility to staff with children they run the risk of losing them altogether, especially within the context of the pandemic.

In 2020, a study conducted by the United States Census Bureau found that around one in five adults of working age were not in employment because COVID-19 disrupted their childcare arrangements.

But this flexibility has to be measured and balanced, as Rosie Gloster of the Institute for Employment Studies explains to Newsweek.

"Situations where staff perceive any specific group of employees has received 'preferential treatment' should be avoided," she says.

With the coronavirus pandemic forcing schools closures both this year and last, some companies put measures in place to help parents juggle childcare, homeschooling and their work responsibilities.

Tech companies such as Facebook and Salesforce offered additional paid leave to parents, but according to The New York Times this bred resentment among childless staff members.

Gloster suggests that: "Effective line management, open communication, forward planning and the transparent allocation of time off all help to negotiate the delicate allocation of festive time off."

Parenting coach Sue Atkins agrees that open dialogue is of utmost importance, telling Newsweek that the subject "needs to be brought up so its not an elephant in the room."

She says that companies have got to "create that open, trusting kind of communication so that people don't feel it's always certain people that get the extra holidays.

"Everybody's doing their best and everybody needs to be able to book a holiday when it's in holiday time."

Parent and child at Christmas
A stock image of a parent and a child at Christmas. Do you think parents should get preferential treatment when it comes to booking time off from work around the holidays? iStock