When The New York Times’ Claire Cain Miller wrote about the struggles of parents working for Silicon Valley tech companies recently, it struck a chord with me. As the devoted father of three daughters ages five and under and the CEO of a rapidly growing tech company, I know firsthand the challenges of prioritizing your time.
When you value your family life but also work in an incredibly demanding field, it’s no easy task to stay on top of things in both spheres. But it also disturbs me that some employers see parents as “bad fits” in their corporate culture, and that they do so little to make life easier for working parents. In my experience, parents make great employees and cultivating an environment that is supportive of them (and “gets it” in terms of work-life balance in general) is not only easy but a no-brainer from a business standpoint.
Why parents make great employees
As the New York Times article points out, many ambitious companies tacitly regard employees with children as a liability. They assume that working parents will somehow be less committed, available and productive.
This is not my experience. My employees who are also parents are great at juggling priorities and multitasking, and because they deal with the demands of raising kids, they generally have several finely tuned abilities. For example, they’re accustomed to switching gears on a dime, they’re flexible and creative in their approaches to work, they know how to project manage and they manage their time well. They’ve honed those skills in their family lives. And they’re just as results-driven as their non-parent colleagues, which is what really matters in the end.
There’s also a lot to be said for helping to keep your workforce diverse by hiring both parents and non-parents. You can never go wrong by cultivating an environment where employees bring different skills and experience to the table, whether those are derived from their professional or personal lives. The cross-pollination of ideas and perspectives that occurs in today’s diverse workplaces is crucial to keep in mind with every hire.
And let’s not forget the increasing evidence that creating family-friendly work environments isn’t just about employee retention, or even just about doing the right thing: As this chart from the Alliance for Work-Life Progress illustrates, family-friendly policies can have a positive effect on company valuation and telecommuting can increase productivity, just to mention a few advantages.
How to create a genuinely parent-friendly work environment
I’ve found that cultivating a work environment that supports my employees who are parents boils down to a few things, some obvious, and some not so obvious.
Provide generous health benefits: We all know how much health benefits for families can painfully add up. Making sure that your employees with families aren’t hit hard by their contributions to health insurance goes a long way toward not just making their financial lives easier but also generates goodwill and loyalty. In my experience, putting your money where your mouth is in terms of the well-being of your employees and their families is far more important than short-term savings.
Allow for flexible schedules: Many of my employees who are parents don’t work a strict 9 to 5 day but put in their hours in ways that accommodate both their family and professional lives. Some come in early and leave early while others work what might be called a “split shift”: They work until mid-afternoon, spend some quality hours with their families, put their children to bed and then jump back online after 8:00 pm. This doesn’t mean that they’re workaholics; merely that they’ve efficiently carved up their days to maximize their work and family time.
A recent article indicates that this strategy isn’t unusual at all. According to one survey, among women who earn six figures and have kids at home, 45 percent work a “split shift,” getting their work done in an average of 44 hours a week by doing a few hours at night. Again, this shouldn’t represent just how women with families work -- men with families should be supported in splitting their shifts, too.
Focus on results. And finally, there’s a more general management strategy that I follow with all of my employees, but I think is particularly reassuring to those who are parents: I make sure they know I’m most interested in results. I want to know about the results my employees deliver from doing tasks like coding, developing a sales presentation or responding to customer emails. I want to hear about how the development of a new product feature is coming along, if our sales team is on target for our quarterly goals, or if our customers are being supported and getting what they need.
We’re all constantly connected now via mobile devices, laptops and cloud services, and that paradigm shift has made it possible to get results at all times of day and in various locations. Being at the office matters for meetings, team communication and collaboration, but it’s not the only place where results happen.
If you run a business that is in tune with the modern way in which people get their work done, these minor drawbacks pale in comparison to the benefits of the productivity, creativity, and experience parents can bring to the table. Having good mix of parents and non-parents as employees is an important part of maintaining a diverse, collaborative workforce, and it drives great bottom line results.