Family-friendly policies in the workplace and work-life balance are always hot topics for discussion, especially with people like Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg (Lean In) and Princeton Professor and former U.S. State Department policy expert Anne Marie Slaughter (Why Women Still Can’t Have it All) weighing in with their own experiences (and often controversial) opinions on working and having a family.
Sandberg and Slaughter are, obviously, both women. But more than ever, family-work challenges are issues that affect both men and women. In fact, a new Pew Research Center study finds that men and women, on average, spend significantly different amounts of time weekly at work and on childcare and housework, they share one very important thing in common: Both men and women are equally stressed about achieving a work-life balance. The study show that 50 percent of working fathers and 56 percent of working moms reported that it is “very” or “somewhat” difficult to balance family and work responsibilities.
Not surprisingly, companies with (and without) family-friendly workplaces are also very much in the news. Although many businesses are attempting to make it easier for moms and dads to balance work and family, the consensus seems to be that we still have a long way to go. In a recent discussion of this very issue, www.parentfurther.com says that higher employee morale and retention are just two of the reasons for businesses to get on board. It’s everyone’s responsibility—and to everyone’s benefit—to work for family-friendly change in the workplace, the site says, and offers some suggestions for getting started.
- Baby steps. Look for small ways to start, like having employees work from home one day a week or during late afternoons when kids are home from school.
- Make sure flexibility is offered equally to all employees, parents and non-parents alike.
- Encourage family involvement at work whenever you can, so family members, kids especially, understand what their parents do every day. One great way to do this is to take advantage of Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, held every year in April. We know first-hand how well this event works to help bridge the family-workplace gap. Several Business Financial Services employees and their families participated this year. Kids got to see their parents in action and even help with some office tasks, like shredding paper and photocopying. Check out the photos here.
- Involve employees in coming up with ideas for a more family-friendly workplace, and encourage them to participate in all programs. Remember, good ideas are likely to boost productivity, morale and commitment to the company.
- Tap into other resources. The Families and Work Institute is a great resource, which offers all kinds of information on creating more family-friendly workplaces. Plus, it is a partner in the When Work Works project, designed to further workplace effectiveness and flexibility.
Human resources expert Ruth Mayhew authored Non-Traditional Ways to Promote a Family-Friendly Workplace on chron.com (the Houston Chronicle). She says that while more typical family-friendly benefits can include things like telecommuting and parental leave, there are creative ways to also include some non-traditional benefits that help working parents. These include:
- Child care. Rare and can be expensive, but produces big ROI.
- Corporate retreats. Again, can be expensive but having company meetings that combine work and pleasure and allow spouses and children to come along is huge.
- Nursing rooms. Federal law requires it, but only a minority of companies complies in optimal ways. Doing this right eases the burdens on new mothers and sends a clear signal that your company supports families.
- Job-sharing. Studies show this works; yet, many businesses have yet to try it out. It’s a big boost for working parents or anyone wanting to scale back hours.
While some companies still bemoan the cost and hard-to-quantify results of instituting family-friendly policies, Slaughter says the statistics say otherwise. She cites examples of studies that show improved share prices and a correlation between increased flexibility and job engagement, job satisfaction, employee retention and employee health.
And then there is the cost of doing nothing to consider. When an employee leaves because of a family-unfriendly workplace, the business automatically loses the time and money invested in those employees, not to mention incurring the cost of recruiting and hiring a replacement.