Benefits of a family-friendly workplace
A month ago, my husband's colleague became a father. I've never met him, know very little about him, and yet I cannot count the ways his big news has made my life better ... it was the start of amazing things to come.
Let's start at the beginning. My husband works in a small team in a big company; just him, Steve (the new dad), an older dad with grown kids, a never ending stream of temp administrators and the two bosses – a single woman with no kids and a woman whose kids were raised the old school way – by mum at home while dad worked.
Shortly after Steve became a dad, the never-ending stream of temporary administrators disappeared as Kelly the team assistant came back from maternity leave, four days a week. In just a couple of weeks, it transformed into a workplace filled with parents of young children – and what a difference a few weeks makes!
Don't get me wrong, they made allowances and were "nice" about it when I had post natal depression and needed my husband at home more. They tolerated my husband starting early and leaving early. They allowed him to use flex time to take time off to help me. It's a nice place to work with nice people ... but who knew the difference a culture shift could make.
Half the office now comes in early and leaves early to beat traffic both ways. No longer is my husband "that guy that leaves early" – he's now "on the early shift". Kelly's flexible working hours have opened up the idea of "working from home" when children are sick, which is what my husband is doing right now (and what inspired this article)!
The office chit chat has shifted abruptly from TV, celebrities and sports to parenting. This has not only given my husband an unexpected circle of support, but has served as a reminder to his colleagues just how hard those first years are. When my husband leaves early to help at home, it's no longer tolerated; it's granted with empathy and best wishes.
So, how does a flexible, family-friendly workplace run?
This is the fear of most employers. All this chit chat, coming and leaving early, working from home – it's all traditionally associated with "slacking". As it turns out, that is a myth – because the team has never run better.
1. Improved team building
There's a new level of empathy in the office, a kind of bond that extends beyond the new parents – a feeling like "we're all in this together". This has made my husband much happier at work (as I am sure it has the other new parents). There is a new culture of "helping each other out" which extends beyond the new parents to the whole team. They've always been a unified team but the new level has lead to "well oiled machine" status.
2. Flexibility to work from home
Working from home isn't about slacking. It's about getting stuff done without constant phone calls and distractions. Even a sick baby is no match for the constant stream of visitors to my husband's desk. While full time working from home wouldn't be possible in my husband's job, team members have all started using the work from home option to "catch up". In one short month, the whole team has managed to get up to date on projects that have been lagging for years.
3. Making it count
The ideal – a team that fires on all cylinders and makes the most of every minute they're at work. NEVER HAPPENS. NOT ONCE EVER. While I can't say that my husband's unit is suddenly operating with military precision in double time, they are aware that completing projects ahead of time and being prepared for future projects means that there's wiggle room in an emergency. As my husband and the other "non-managers" finish their work first, there is emerging an unexpected "trickle up" effect.
4. New leaders emerge
Although the hierarchy is pretty clear in the office, my husband is a new "leader" as he has a toddler, so is a constant font of information and empathy for his co-workers. It may sound odd but my husband has gone from "the quiet one" to being a "go-to guy".
5. It's not just about dads
In my life BC (before children) I watched the very same transition happen in my employer's admin team. A shift from 20-something girls with no strings attached, (hired, I suspected, because they were unlikely to spend years on maternity leave), to 30+ mums and wannabe mums. It made for a dramatic cultural change – one which nobody expected.
Unexpectedly absenteeism didn't go through the roof (it turns out 22-year-old party girls call in sick just as much as mums), and the team worked together to ensure minimum disruption when someone was absent (hangover doesn't carry the same unifying empathy as a baby with chicken pox does).
From having one of the highest rates of turnover in the whole company, turnover dropped to close to 0%. Maternity leave came and went for team members but in their place, new professional 30 + women were trained and when natural turn over did occur (due to relocation and other external factors) there was always a well trained "fill in" waiting in the wings. Transitions were seamless and the unit became far more efficient – less downtime due to newbie mistakes and better overall organisation.
Recruitment and training costs dropped dramatically as nothing was "last minute" so handover was done by employees, not management and there were no expensive temps needed. Having a mortgage and little mouths to feed made for better quality workers who appreciated the job more. All in all, it was a better place to work and better workers were doing the job.
In all likelihood, the change to family friendly working culture won't send a company broke. It won't cause women to have excessive numbers of children out of spite. It won't make employees turn dishonest or greedy. It won't cause single employees to be shunned or any similarly ridiculous notion.
What it will do is improve the workplace culture for mums and dads and the home life for their families.
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