‘I want all the perks of maternity leave, without having kids!’ proclaimed author Meghann Foye last week. She’s coined the word ‘Meternity’ and written a novel by that name about a woman who fakes a pregnancy to get a break from the office. Foye describes taking her own career break to write the novel, and finding that some time away from her job helped her reassess her life and make some positive changes. She was burned out (we know all about that) and wanted some meternity leave. Naturally, Foye has experienced the wrath of mothers everywhere who, understandably, didn’t get much of a break during their maternity leave.
Not the worst idea
Despite that, I actually think that Foye sort of has a point. As Millennials take the workplace by storm, they’re ripping up the rule books and companies are implementing everything from unlimited holidays to period leave (both of which I am totally on board with, by the way). Meternity leave may actually be a pretty good concept wrapped up with a rather offensive name…
Levelling the playing field
As a twenty-something-year-old woman in a long term relationship (and the ring on the finger to prove it to interviewers who aren’t allowed to ask about such things), I worry that my age and potential baby-making status would work against me in my career. Whilst we’re making strides in the field of paternity leave, if everyone could take a sabbatical of up to a year then there’d be no greater risk taking on a woman who might get pregnant in the not-so-distant future as there would any other employee.
Caring for your family
Whilst bringing a child into the world is an important role, and requires time away from work to care for them, babies aren’t actually the only ones who need caring for within a family. Whether it’s an elderly relative, a partner with a long-term illness or children who need some extra attention after an operation (for example), there are multiple times in your life when you might need some time away from work to focus on your family. Having caring responsibilities on top of everything else in your life is undoubtedly a huge strain – so imagine if you could take one of those things out of the equation for a while without worrying about the career implication?
Time to reassess
No one is saying that raising a baby is not hard work and time-consuming. However, an extended period of time away from the workplace definitely helps people reassess their priorities (even if they do have to do that whilst sleep-deprived) and gives an opportunity to explore other options. I have friends and family members who have resolved to find a new job, applied for a promotion at their current workplace and started ‘mumpreneur’ businesses on their maternity leave after having some time to think about what they want their family life to look like. Some of these choices might have been forced by the cost of childcare and the difficulties finding employers who would offer flexible working (which is another issue entirely) but how many would have made similar choices with just a little bit of distance from the 9-5 grind?
Learn something new
If given the chance, I’m pretty sure that we would all like to learn a new skill or language – but so often the reason we don’t is because of our existing commitments. The demands of everyday life often get in the way, but with a few months off work you may have the space and time to expand your knowledge and learn something new. Whilst there are some skills which would be obvious advantages to your employer, I’m pretty sure there aren’t many that don’t have transferable benefits – learning to crochet definitely helped me learn to keep calm under pressure! A little self-improvement is certainly no bad thing for the population in general, and a meternity leave concept could certainly help promote that.
Not just a sabbatical
Whist sabbaticals exist at many companies, these often only kick in after a number of years working for the same firm – and this sort of arrangement is unlikely to benefit many in a new workplace environment when more people are jumping around companies and designing their own careers, rather than sticking with a tried-and-tested method. There’s numerous ways to make it work – a deferred salary system, for example – and I definitely don’t think we should get stuck in a ‘because it’s not been done before, it can never work!’ rut. So I think meternity leave a great idea. Let’s just change the name, yeah?
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