Some companies like to tout themselves as being family-friendly, but are they really if their family-friendly policies only benefit married couples or employees raising children?
“Family-friendly work options are not only for employees with immediate family,” says Eileen Timmins, Ph.D., founder of Aingilin. “Having diversity of options for the diverse workforce family is the key.”
“Family” doesn’t necessarily refer to only spouses and minor children — it can encompass domestic partners, stepfamilies, aging parents and close aunts or uncles. Truly family-friendly policies also apply to singles and employees without children.
Paid time off is one option all employees can use. “PTO is an option, but many more companies are using ‘take what you need’ time,” Timmins says. “An employee takes the time they need for vacation or sick time. It’s similar to an honor policy — if it becomes excessive, then the employer will approach the person and see if there are other things going on, such as life events, work-life balance issues, and so on.”
Flexible scheduling is another family-friendly policy all employees should be able to use. “Different hours and working from home are being used more and more,” Timmins says.
Other flexible-leave policies any employee might want to use include the “48 for 52” plan, in which employees take 48 weeks of pay spread evenly throughout the year in exchange for an additional four weeks of leave, and other types of purchased-leave plans. “They generally mean that an employee can elect to take additional annual leave (i.e. in addition to their annual entitlement), in return for a pro-rated reduction in their salary,” says Stephen Murray, an HR consultant at Agility Group. “This reduction is then averaged out over the year.”
As employers consider flexible options for employees, it’s important to check in with them and find out what they’re interested in, says Lori Kleiman of HR Topics. “Ask each individual what would work for their situation. I see many programs created that look great in the conference room when developed, but no one takes advantage of them. Often asking the employee what he/she needs and then being open is the best plan. However, with any plan I would recommend there be a three-month trial period and ongoing evaluation to determine if it is working and not an entitlement.”
While many companies focus on specific benefits and work schedules, that’s not the only approach to setting family-friendly policies, says Leigh Steere of Managing People Better. “In my opinion, the most important family-friendly provision is results-based performance measurement.
“Some single people or workaholics might put in a regular 60-hour week and then resent the working mom who is clocking only 40,” she says. “But that working mom may actually be getting more done at work than her 60-hour-a-week colleague. By taking the focus off hours worked and instead focusing on what employees actually accomplish, an employer can level the playing field between working parents and nonparents.”
Finally, Timmins says a concierge service designed to help busy parents complete chores during the day is a benefit other employees will find useful.