Family-friendly work practices

Family-friendly work practices

Ask any working parent, and they’ll tell you of the challenges involved in juggling professional and family commitments. Many Australians go so far as to say their employers fall short of expectations when it comes to creating family friendly workplaces.

There is, however, widespread agreement that family-friendly arrangements in the workplace offer many benefits. But what, exactly, are family friendly work place practices and why should you adopt them?
 

What are family-friendly work practices?

Family-friendly work practices allow employees to balance their work commitments with their family responsibilities. They support employees to meet both their professional and personal commitments. They range from the offering of flexible start and finish times to remote working, part-time employment, job sharing and even, in rare cases, onsite childcare.
 
Regardless of the solutions offered, they enable both mothers and fathers to balance the competing demands of family and career.
 
Crucially, it’s not only parents who benefit when an organisation offers family-friendly practices. All employees benefit from policies designed to improve work-life balance.
 

The benefits

Organisations that offer family friendly work provisions are more likely to attract and retain dedicated staff. After all, today’s skilled professionals want to work for an employer who understands that professional and personal responsibilities can sometimes overlap. Therefore, they look for an employer with work-life balance processes and policies in place.
 
Such policies and processes also help to reduce absenteeism, improve productivity and create a more highly engaged, motivated and loyal workforce.
 
Furthermore, family friendly work practices are part of the suite of benefits that help an organisation become recognised as an employer of choice, which can be very advantageous. Not only do employers of choice benefit from a happier and more engaged workforce, but the top talent turns to them when first looking for a new role.
 
There are also broader economic benefits to be gained when organisations offer family-friendly work practices. With more people, both mothers and fathers, remaining in paid employment, workforce participation rises.
 
Of course, there are societal benefits, too, when the primary caregiver balances paid employment with unpaid caring work, and when supporting partners can take a greater role in parenting responsibilities.
 
Finally, family friendly work arrangements also help to improve gender diversity in the workplace. By taking this a step further and de-gendering gender diversity through the provision of equal family-friendly working arrangements for both male and female employees, organisations can further improve diversity in their workforce. 
 

How to create a family friendly work environment

There are various strategies you can adopt to achieve a family friendly workplace. Some are offered as standard to all employees while others are proposed after an individual employee requests greater flexibility. Either way, the below support can help employees balance work and personal commitments:
 
  1. Paid parental leave: Perhaps the most common family friendly work practice, this involves offering paid parental leave to both mothers and fathers on top of the government legislated allowance. Encourage both your male and female employees to take their full parental leave entitlement.
     
  2. Unpaid parental leave: Most employees are entitled to a certain period of unpaid parental leave when they become new parents. Employers can also offer the option for additional periods of unpaid leave in recognition that there are times when older children, not only newborns, need a parent to be fully present.
     
  3. Keep in touch days: These days allow managers to stay in touch with employees on parental leave. This makes it easier for employees returning from parental leave to hit the ground running since they have spent a few days staying up to date with the workplace. 
     
  4. Flexible working hours: The provision of flexible working hours allows an employee to alter the hours they work, such as by shifting their start and finish times or negotiating a part-time arrangement. There is a growing understanding that provided an employee’s contracted set hours are worked each week, when those hours are worked has no bearing on output.
     
  5. Remote working: This may be a permanent or temporary arrangement to allow an employee to work from home or another location. Depending on the scope of job tasks and responsibilities to be completed, agreements can vary from one day of remote working per week to full-time remote working. Regardless of the agreement reached, make sure your managers understand how to manage a remote employee and what caveats you may need in place.
     
  6. Employee assistance programs: An Employee Assistance Program, or EAP, offers support and assistance for a range of work related issues, including for parents struggling to address a work and family conflict. Make sure your working parents know how to access yours.
     
  7. Mental health support: Working parents can face a range of unique challenges, regardless of the age of their children. Offering continuous mental health support at work will help keep their mental wellbeing on track during all stages of raising their children, thereby reducing the risk of burnout and mental health problems. 

A family friendly culture

Underscoring all the above strategies must be a family friendly work culture. In such a culture, managers take the time to listen to what their staff require to remain in employment and balance conflicting demands on their time. They publicly support, embrace and measure family friendly policies and trust their employees to complete their work wherever and whenever they can.
 
A family friendly work culture is also one in which employers address unconscious bias, including the misconception that employees who take up these policies are less committed to their career, and establish open and transparent promotion criteria based on merit alone.
 
Finally, such a culture fosters an inclusive environment that respects individual differences, including those of working parents, and understands what is required for them to feel included and bring their full selves to work. For example, avoid scheduling team meetings at school pickup time or late in the afternoon when children require more attention and adopt virtual communication tools so that parents who are working remotely can be included.
 

Challenge traditional roles

A family friendly workplace is also one in which traditional gender roles are challenged and working fathers can participate in the day-to-day care of their children. However, research shows that many men worry that taking advantage of family-friendly policies at work will negatively impact their career. 
 
Employers, therefore, may need to encourage more men to take advantage of family-friendly provisions and accept the decision of fathers to work flexibly, without career consequences.f
 
After all, there’s no denying that traditional parenthood roles are entrenched in society. Organisations must challenge these stereotypes to create family-friendly policies that benefit all working parents, both men and women.
 

Open a dialogue with staff

Every family is different and no one approach will suit all working parents. Having regular one-on-one conversations with staff about their individual situation and the family friendly arrangements you can offer allows you to come up with the best solution that balances personal and professional priorities.
 
More importantly, it allows you to understand the needs of individuals without making assumptions about their career motivations or unconsciously applying bias that could impact their career advancement. 
 
Some negotiation may be required to reach a satisfactory arrangement for both parties. But by opening a dialogue, you show you are willing to do all you can to help employees overcome the challenges of managing work and family commitments. 
 
But remember, as children grow older, the support parents require can change, too. You cannot expect that the flexible working arrangement, for example, you agreed to when an employee’s child was first born will suit their needs once the child starts kindergarten or reaches high school. Check in from time to time with your employee and, if required, reconfigure the arrangement.
 
To sum up, family friendly work provisions can benefit all employees, not just working parents, and allow you to attract and retain a motivated and loyal workforce while also improving gender diversity in your workplace. Just remember to talk openly and honestly with individual employees about their needs, challenge traditional gender stereotypes and underpin your strategies with a genuine family friendly work culture.

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