On this Fourth of July (in the United States), most of us are with family. Unfortunately, it may be that this is one of the rare times when workers can spend uninterrupted time with family. Lots of managers in Silicon Valley and other parts of the business world say they are family friendly. But when push comes to shove and employees with children or elders to care for need to flex their schedules in order to balance home demands with work requirements, those same managers express dissatisfaction. That can even extend into demands to reply to emails on weekends.
The common complaints? The employee with family needs is not staying late enough. The employee with family needs is not answering emails after hours. The employee with family needs is missing key meetings. My advice to all those managers? Learn to flex for families and those employees will become your biggest supporters.
Caring for family is the one non-negotiable in all of our lives. No one goes to their graves saying “I wish I’d spent more time answering emails and less time with my mother before she passed away”. Showing empathy for this reality is a key way to show that you care about your employees as people and don’t view them as units of production. By allowing them the flexibility to care for their family, you are telling them that you value their entire person.
In most cases, in my experience, those employees will reward you by producing top quality work. A growing body of research supports my experience. Research by Penn State University economist Lonnie Golden “…suggests flexibility to balance work with personal needs makes employees happier, ultimately boosting productivity and retention.” And research on BestBuy employees by University of Minnesota sociology professor Phyllis Moen (published in the Atlantic) suggested that emphasizing outcomes and not attendance created a healthier work environment. Said Moen, “Emphasizing actual results can create a work environment that fosters healthy behavior and well-being.”
I can personally attest to the truth behind these findings. For example, an employee of mine had a child with special needs (I can empathize because a sibling of mine has cerebral palsy). This meant fairly frequent meetings in the middle of work days to check in on schools and to meet with assistance professionals to ensure that their child was in a healthy environment. I always told that employee that anything for her kids took first priority.
That employee would work until midnight (after the kids were asleep) to answer emails, finish projects or do anything required to help the department and the company. When we had weekend emergencies, that employee made sure they could contribute – asking a spouse or a friend to watch the children. I ended up giving raises and promoting that employee. We had a close relationship. I trusted them and knew they would do the job I needed.
They trusted me to protect them and to ensure they had the time and space to care for their loved ones. They were one of my best and most productive employees. We were very happy working together.
There are situations, of course, where the care requirements are so great that it becomes impossible to continue with a standard work schedule. Those situations are tough. The good news is, if you have already established a baseline of honesty, trust and compassion with those employees they tend to come to you first to ask about family leave or other alternatives. In return, you can put in place a glide path for them to return easily, once their situation changes for the better.
The basic upshot is simple. Let your employees put their families first, their work second, and to control their schedules. In doing so, you will encourage them to do their best work and to build a commitment to you and to the organization with a solid basis of trust, compassion, caring and honesty. Take care of them and they will take care of your company – and then some.
Note: I’m putting together a basic book on management that I’ll publish at some point in the future. So I’d love your feedback. Thanks for reading!
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