Everybody has family, and many people will at some point be parents. Given that most people also need and want to have jobs, doesn’t it make sense for employers to be as family friendly as possible?
An increasing number of businesses are coming to this conclusion. They’re realizing that a large percentage of their workers have kids and that finding ways to help ease the pressure of juggling work and parenting commitments makes sense for everybody. For a start, the employees are happier and less stressed, which leads to improved workplace morale and a corresponding increase in productivity. Absenteeism and staff turnover are likely to be reduced if workers can legitimately take time off to meet family needs.
Attracting the best
Not only will employees be more loyal to a company if they can see that it cares about their needs and puts it money where its mouth is, but as word gets out about the family-friendly benefits on offer, the best and the brightest are also more likely to come knocking on that company’s door when there’s a vacancy. Indeed, for a small to medium-sized enterprise, offering family-friendly benefits might be a more affordable alternative to outpacing the competition in terms of lucrative salaries, as many employees value benefits over a pay raise.
A first step in the right direction could be offering paid maternity and paternity leave for employees. Currently, US businesses have to offer a minimum of 12 weeks unpaid annual leave for mothers of newborn or adopted children. The US is actually the only developed nation not to mandate some kind of paid maternity leave, and although some private companies do include this as part of a benefits package, offering paid leave is much rarer than in other countries.
Supporting working parents
When mothers or fathers are ready to return to work, then a planned reintegration period can be hugely helpful. This might involve them returning on a part-time or flexible basis at first, perhaps coupled with a back-to-work bonus. Another option to support working parents is the provision of on-site childcare. Some businesses are able to offer dedicated facilities where children are supervised at an in-house daycare center. If this isn’t feasible, then offering discounted local childcare elsewhere could be another option, or at the very least, companies could provide information about what is available.
Sometimes, even if parents make their own childcare arrangements, things don’t always run smoothly or go according to plan. In those cases, a truly family-friendly company should be happy to let parents bring their children or babies into the office for the day. Obviously, the nature of the workplace will dictate whether this is genuinely practical or not. Safety should be a paramount concern; but in most standard office environments, the presence of children is not as disruptive as one might expect, provided that a certain amount of preparation for the eventuality has been made.
Some offices have dedicated nursing rooms where working mothers can breastfeed or pump out breastmilk. It is not unheard of for some companies to ship breastmilk back home from new mothers working away. A “Babies at Work” program could also include providing a portable changing pad that is portable enough to be taken into meetings and elsewhere without raising an eyebrow.
Benefits for all
Less child-specific benefits that are still enormously attractive and helpful for working parents include flexible working hours, job sharing and the option of work-from-home days. Flex time is an increasingly popular option with many companies, as those that offer it often see a rise in productivity in real terms. Employees get to manage their own working hours, and in return, they take greater responsibility for getting the job done. For parents who must fit in a full-time job around child rearing, even if their main responsibilities just involve dropping off and picking up children from school or daycare, the benefits of flexible working hours are enormous.
Similarly, health insurance or private healthcare schemes are attractive to all employees, but if they include maternity care or can be extended to family members, then this makes them especially family friendly. Another benefit that would help attract and retain those with growing children would be some kind of scheme that would help pay for college costs. Educational assistance in the form of scholarships, loans or pre-tax spending accounts can reduce one of the biggest financial burdens that families have to face and again could be a more effective alternative to simply paying higher wages.
The right attitude
Not all companies will be able to offer these benefits, and smaller businesses in particular will be limited in terms of what they can provide. What every business can offer, however, is a family-friendly culture in which employees with children are supported and encouraged. For many people, their families and especially their children are the reason that they go to work each day. They’re what motivate workers to do the best that they can to achieve in life. Once this is recognized, penalizing workers of any gender for having children becomes clearly ridiculous.
A family-friendly working environment should be fostered from the top down. Company executives should lead by example, and instances such as staying home to look after a sick child or leaving early once in a while for a school play or a camping weekend should be encouraged, not frowned upon. Fun days involving activities such as work picnics to which families are invited or bring your child to work days all help to normalize family culture in the workplace, which is as it should be.
Job satisfaction isn’t just about receiving a paycheck. It’s also about feeling appreciated and understood as a human being. If employers want employees to go that extra mile at work, then they can’t expect them to separate their home lives from their work lives entirely. There has to be some give and take. Offering the right kind of benefit packages can work for everyone, but more important is an attitude that says that families are what it’s all about, and we’re here to help you support them.