Preamble: This blog post is inspired by a recent outrage at Facebook and Twitter in regard to parents getting extra time off.
Dear childless employee. We are really sorry to hear that many of you feel so lonely and frustrated nowadays. I believe it can cause a lot of real distress and I also wish employers paid more attention to mental health issues. It should also be covered better through a short term disability insurance or a similar policy, which is regretfully lacking. Understandably, some of you are frustrated that parents have gotten a bit more time off. Remember, however, that this is not a permanent benefit, but rather a short-term measure.
Our family was able to work productively when our daycare was closed, but we are totally sympathetic to people who were not able to do so and we are ready to pick up the slack. We are ready despite we are not as young as a vast majority of Facebook employees and we have had our difficult times when we slept close to five hours a day for many years in a row.
Whether giving parents some preferential treatment is fair is a difficult question, which needs to be considered in a broader social context. Here, there is a typical conservative opinion, which is basically "screw you, you are totally on your own" and a more liberal one, which asserts that (some) redistribution of benefits is good for society in the long run. Whether for-profit companies should be responsible for solving any social issues is a tricky question too. We do not have a full agreement on this even in our family.
Understandably, one trend is to hire mostly young employees, who have lower salary expectations and can more readily put in longer hours. However, there is another trend to create healthier and diverse workplaces, which are welcoming women and minorities, because it may benefit us all in the long run. Remember that lack of adequate parental leave affects disproportionately women, who are often default caregivers.
From this perspective, there is nothing unfair in supporting parents through these difficult times: It is just an integral part of building a healthier workplace. Likewise, we should have support for overworked and overstressed people. I wish unexpected parental leaves were handled via a special insurance (or fund), which is similar to the disability insurance. However, we do not have such government policy and the current pandemic situation is unprecedented.
Being a parent is certainly a privilege and some of it is supported through your taxes. We greatly appreciate this help. However, let us also not forget that societies do love babies: They just do not like to put effort in their upbringing. In theory, we have an overpopulation threat, but, in practice, birth rates seem to be plummeting everywhere and especially in the developed countries. Among these US has been doing pretty well, but even here the average is 1.7 birth per woman.
To stay competitive, the US will need many more smart and hardworking people. I speculate that the US can easily absorb 100-200 million people over a period of three-five decades, but immigration is a difficult topic and it has become tricky to invite even highly qualified people. It is quite sad because a skilled workforce is not a burden but a driver of innovation and economic growth.
In conclusion, my dear childless employee, I would like to remind you that one day you may become a parent too. Whether this happens or not should certainly be your personal choice, which could come with a lot of work and years of sleep deprivation. It could also come with a long commute, because good schools are in the suburbs and not where the offices are. If this ever happens, I really hope that your future managers will have some sympathy for your long commute and will not insist you have to be in the office every day. On the plus side, if you are lucky, parenting can also be quite rewarding, so I hope you might enjoy it as we do now.