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Late in 2014, Elaine McCarthy had just returned to work after 11 months of maternity leave following the birth of her daughter. She was just getting back into the swing of the job when disaster struck. Her father suffered a brain stem stroke. Elaine emailed her manager with the news—she had to drop everything and rush him to the hospital.
Elaine’s father was not expected to survive the day—but he did, albeit in a coma and on a ventilator. His stay in Intensive Care stretched to three weeks. It was followed by 15 months in the hospital.
When he eventually woke from the coma, he was paralyzed from the neck down and unable to communicate—a condition known as Locked-In Syndrome. He needed a feeding tube to eat and a tracheostomy to breathe. Only his eyes worked as normal. Adding to the challenges, while he was in hospital he picked up one infection after another. Death often seemed one illness away. Elaine needed to be there with him.
“It was an emotional roller coaster,” recalls Elaine, a remote worker in northwest Ireland who works on Cisco’s Talent Acquisition team.
It was an extremely stressful time. Elaine was thrust into the role of family leader, helping her mother comprehend medical details while caring for her one-year-old daughter, Aine (Irish for Anne). Working a regular job was impossible. A silver lining was that Elaine’s manager was incredibly understanding.
“She told me to do whatever I needed to do—not to worry about work,” Elaine says. “I felt supported 150 percent.”
Later, her manager gave Elaine the flexibility to manage her hours between work and the hospital. She caught up with work projects after spending time at the hospital and relied on teammates to pick up the slack.
After leaving the hospital, Elaine’s father spent an additional nine months at a rehabilitation hospital in Dublin. It was there that he finally showed signs of improvement. He learned how to use one hand and began trying to talk. For Elaine, there’s been a partial return to normalcy. Upon returning to work, she found her manager and team respectful of her situation, careful not to overwhelm her and eager to help out if needed. She still has to leave work to attend to her father’s appointments and needs, but she’s allowed to adjust her work schedule around this.
“Knowing that I could just be there for my father at any moment without being at risk of losing my job was incredibly valuable,” she says. “People had my back. Cisco had my back. With any other company, I would have had to give up my job.”
Emergency Time Off
The experience has made Elaine value the company all the more. From November 1, all employees can now receive similar support. That’s when Cisco introduced the Emergency Time Off program to support you in your time of need.
This is paid time, on top of your regular PTO or vacation time, you can use after talking to your manager. You can use it at the onset of a sudden, unexpected situation—to you or someone your love—which requires your complete focus. We’ve also expanded the definition of “family” to include the people you rely on and those who rely on you daily for support.
Elaine’s advice for others in emergency situations? Be honest with your leader—tell them what you’re going through. And to leaders: Trust what your employees are saying—understand that they might need extra help. They might need time to cope with a situation and evaluate what they need to do.
Today, Elaine’s father is living life again. He has learned how to eat, and is able to join Elaine for family gatherings, holidays and more. His relationship with his granddaughter is blossoming, and he’s looking forward to being father of the bride for Elaine’s sister next March. Despite his limited mobility, he’s also learned to use email and Facebook, which enable him to keep up with—and to share with—family and friends.
“He’s in brilliant form,” Elaine says. “We get emails from him on a daily basis—it’s amazing!”
One of the sweetest moments of his tumultuous journey was when he uttered his first word after months of being unable to speak.
“His first word was Aine,” Elaine recalls. “He had been bursting to say her name.”
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