Creating an office culture that’s more accommodating for working parents and their myriad responsibilities can actually give your company a competitive edge as opposed to holding it back.
Working parents have it harder than just about anyone when it comes to work-life balance.
Although companies today are becoming more mindful of the stressors unique to working parents, it can still be difficult for mothers and fathers to find the kind of flexibility they need in their work environment. What are working parents to do, for example, when they need to leave work in the middle of the day to go pick up their sick kid from school? If they know they’ll be reprimanded by their employer, they’re left with only bad—and sometimes even no—options.
I worked full-time when my children were still young. And although my employer provided things I was thankful for, like solid health benefits, they simply didn’t allow me requisite flexibility when it came to my schedule. It took a lot of effort and caused a lot of stress juggling everything I was responsible for––ensuring that I was making money, furthering my career, and giving my kids everything they needed from me as their mother.
The truth is, all multi-functioning adults have to compartmentalize commitments and prioritize responsibilities. We’re all wearing a variety of hats. And companies, of course, need some amount of accountability and reliability from their employees. Founders shouldn’t be vilified for insisting on as much.
At the same time, however, research shows that employees who are given more flexibility and autonomy at work are both happier and more productive.
Creating an office culture that’s more accommodating for working parents and their myriad responsibilities, then, can actually give your company a competitive edge as opposed to holding it back.
It’s not only an ethical imperative, in other words, but a strategic one.
This is something I’ve become aware of as a CEO myself. And ever since, I’ve taken steps to ensure my people have the kind of flexibility they need to be effective. Here are some ways you can work to do the same in your company or team.
1) Offer mental health days.
This may seem small, but giving employees explicit permission to take a day off on short notice if they need to can go a long way toward easing their minds.
It’s important that parents know that when they’re feeling overwhelmed, they can take time to rest if they need it.
More than anything else, this combats the claustrophobia of feeling trapped in your schedule––which, as anyone whose felt so trapped knows, is an unsettling feeling.
2) Be flexible in allowing parents to leave work when child-related situations come up.
In a similar vein, parents need to know that if they need to leave work early to attend their son’s dance recital, or their daughter’s little league game, they can do that.
Same with taking an extended lunch to go attend to a kid who’s sick at home.
Parents, in my experience, don’t abuse this leniency. And having it in their back pockets allows them to focus on their work when they’re in the office––uninterrupted by anxiety.
3) Offer “flex time.”
“Flex time” amounts, essentially, to a kind of buffer. To offer it is to tell your employees, “Hey, if something unforeseen happens at home or while dropping your kids off at school, you shouldn’t worry about coming in 15 minutes late,” which is often the consequence.
It’s like a kind of grace. And, again, it can make a big difference for employees’ mental health––just knowing they don’t have to stress or fear losing their job if their child has a hard time getting out of bed one morning.
4) Offer the ability to work from home.
Employees, simply put, are happier when they have the chance to work from home once or twice a week.
Every parent, especially, would greatly appreciate that opportunity.
As a CEO, however, I will say that in my experience, employees tend to be more productive when they’re in the office. So allow your teams the chance to do this, but only at a clip that you feel makes sense for you and your business.
5) Hold family-friendly activities where your employees can bring their children along.
This last one is, in my opinion, crucial.
Picnics, movie outings, bowling nights, taking your team out to sporting events––these sorts of things foster community. They give parents something to do with their children and with their co-workers that’s fun and exciting. They serve to create memories.
Sure, planning and holding events after work or on weekends may not make working parents’ day-to-day lives easier, but in my experience, they engender happiness, contribute to a kinder and happier company culture, and show a certain appreciation on your part for the importance of community and family.
Employees appreciate working in such an empathetic culture.
Although all these steps might seem small, they can make a huge difference.
If you were to implement some of these changes today, it would change the lives of all your employees, but especially those of the working parents you employ.
As I know from experience, a more flexible and empathetic work culture dramatically decreases stress.
That’s something you should want to do for your employees regardless.
The fact that more purposefully accommodating working parents will also improve your company’s productivity and overall happiness is really only an added bonus.