Nothing’s better than being in the middle of the most important client meeting of the quarter and having your best employee look at their phone, frantically gather up their things, and say “Sorry. My kid just swallowed a goldfish. I gotta go.”
And while these emergencies do happen from time to time, there are a laundry list of other issues that come up when employees have children. As we get ready to head back to school - and soccer practice and ballet practice and tuba lessons - this also means more of your employees’ time is going to be dedicated to their kids.
So what’s a small business owner to do when you have to split time with a demanding eight year old? Here are some suggestions.
Now that your employees not only work for you, but are also an on-call taxi service/food delivery program, the most obvious thing you can do is give them a more flexible schedule. Many companies are creating longer operating hours where a core four or five hours a day everyone is required to be in the office, but the other hours can be spent somewhere between early morning and late evening.
That kind of program works if you run a more-traditional office business, but in a position that requires customer service - like a restaurant, salon, or medical clinic - you can’t just have people popping in and out at will. In this kind of situation, you can’t beat yourself up trying to accommodate employees. Tell them the onus is on them to tell you their childcare schedules, and do your best to work around it.
While working with a toddler running around your legs might only be slightly less annoying than that guy at the next desk who’s been playing “Don’t Stop Believing” on a loop since 9, it does alleviate the stress of having to deliver children to childcare. Even if a job is not wholly doable from a remote location - like on-site consulting or team meetings - the work a parent can do from home should be done from there.
Now many parents see the workplace as an escape from the insanity of parenthood, and look forward to being around people who don’t drool. So before instituting any kind of telecommuting program, make sure it’s what the employee actually wants.
While some might see cutting back the hours of an employee with kids as the Ebenezer Scrooge solution, your employees too must understand what working in a small business means. And if someone has other obligations, and there aren’t other employees who can do their job, an honest conversation about how much time they can devote to the job is in order.
This doesn’t mean tell an employee who’s had to take three personal days because of a sick kid that his or her hours are unilaterally cut. But talk to the person and ask them to tell you how many hours a week they can devote. If this means cutting them to part-time, and bringing on another part-timer to fill in, then that’s what you need to do.
And if the employee tells you he or she can commit more hours, and the absenteeism continues, well, then Scrooge away.
You’re a small business, so really everyone you hire should be able to do almost any job in the company. But in more service-oriented workplaces, like salons or restaurants, you may not have a stylist who can wax eyebrows. Or a server who can prep food. Many small businesses don’t take the time to familiarize their employees with other facets of the business, and when you find yourself down a person, it can create havoc.
Take some time during this back-to-school period to cross train some of your employees in other jobs. That way when you have a server that has to bolt during a lunch rush because her kid is having a violent vomiting episode, there’ll be someone other than you to fill in.
Careful of the Childless
So if your employees with children all say they’re unable to work on weekends, who’s left to work? The childless. And the stress between employees with kids and those without can put a serious chink in the morale of your company. Don’t abandon any family-friendly policies you may have like flexible scheduling or telecommuting. But be careful not to make childless employees feel like a day off for them isn’t warranted if they need to go take care of their cat (seriously, Duke University Law professor Trina Jones told CNBC recently that when she studies this issue, cats come up very frequently).
Take children into consideration when creating policies, but make sure you’re not discounting the conflicts and concerns of the childless and treat everyone the same. Because if not, you - like those parents - will find yourself having to deal with someone huffing “That’s not FAIR!”
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