A working mother I know recently told me that toggling between parenting a toddler and the demands of managing a department and a staff of three is a tightrope walk. Some days, everything worked smoothly, boosting her confidence in her career path and her childrearing choices. Other days, when her child got sick or daycare was closed due to weather, the disruption and reallocation of her time threatened to tip the fine balance between work and family. "It’s stressful," she confesses. "It makes me feel like I’m not doing well at either job," asking not to reveal her name, in case her boss reads the article.
Hers is a familiar story among working parents of either gender. What might help, she posits, is a more accepting environment. "One that doesn’t punish you for having a life where things don’t always run smoothly," she says.
Although "Take Our Daughters and Sons To Work" is still an official day meant to give kids a glimpse into what mommy and daddy do (it’s on April 28 this year), supporting one structured day doesn’t automatically create a family-friendly work culture. It takes commitment from leadership and support from both employees with and without kids. But there are rewards to be reaped.
Plenty of employees look beyond their paychecks for job satisfaction. We’ve reported that four out of five workers would prefer to get new benefits over a pay raise, and a boss who dispenses gratitude regularly can make staff feel more positive and able to deal with adversity, according to Harvard Health. The payoff of having happier employees? Economists at the University of Warwick found that happiness correlated with a 12% spike in productivity.
For Natalie Nagele, the cofounder of Wildbit, a company that makes software for developers and designers, there’s even been a track record of retention: "We just celebrated an 11-year and eight-year anniversary," she says. The 22-person firm counts 17 parents among its staff and executives, "We are very much like a family. Our kids play together," Nagele tells Fast Company.
Often, the kids play together right in the office. Their newly expanded workspace in Philadelphia was designed with both staff and their children in mind. Nagele says the mezzanine doubles as event space and a place for the kids to hang out. Parents can even hold parties there.
When Wildbit started 15 years ago, Nagele wasn’t a parent yet, but understood the importance of flexibility and its effect on keeping staff happy. Now with two children, she says, "We have strict 40-hour weeks," and employees don’t work nights or weekends. No one is watching the clock if someone needs to leave in the middle of the day to take their child to a lesson, either, she says, and if there’s a snow day, kids are welcome to come to the office.
"One of our designer’s daughters spent a couple of weeks here," she recalls. There’s never much disruption, Nagele points out, because everyone in the building has their own office. "We all respect each other's privacy," she says. "And the mezzanine controls the noise and distraction."
PicMonkey has put a similar plan in motion for its staff of 40. The online photo editing website prides itself on the gender balance of its staff. Fifty-five percent are women and 20 people have children, so Jonathan Sposato, cofounder and CEO of PicMonkey (who’s a dad himself), was looking for ways to make the office more family friendly. One of his policies: Kids are always welcome in the office during business hours.
"I began to think a lot about why we do what we do: Why do we go to work?" he tells Fast Company. "It's to provide a better opportunity for the next generation and create a better world for them," he says. "What's the sense in doing all that, with it coming at the expense of family time?"
In addition to benefits such as three months of paid maternity leave and a nursing room, Sposato says that PicMonkey offers "something you can't get from an HR handbook—a culture of being family supportive." He says that he and the executive team set the example that it’s okay to leave work early for a piano recital or soccer game. "Staying home in order to take care of a sick kid is especially encouraged," he says.
Many employees also take advantage of bringing kids in. "Sometimes even a few moments in the office on the way to/from a pediatrician's appointment can mean the difference between the day running smoothly versus being logistically insane," he says. As for having the kids on site, Sposato says, "Frankly, it's never been chaotic. It's rather peaceful. We also just welcome the great kid energy."
What works for 40 people can also work for hundreds—804 to be exact, according to Ariana Anthony, Etsy’s PR specialist. "Many of Etsy's employees are parents, including a significant number of our executive team," she says, "and they lead by example when it comes to our family-friendly policies and overall culture."
Before Mark Zuckerberg’s highly publicized paternity leave, Anthony points out that Etsy’s CEO, Chad Dickerson, took full advantage of the company’s parental leave policies when he adopted his son, and felt it was important enough to speak publicly about it in order to encourage other working dads (especially those in leadership positions) to do the same.
To further support this culture onsite, Etsy hosts crafternoons, where families work on crafting projects together about once a quarter, bring your child to work days, and parties for kids and dogs. "Friends and family are always welcome to join employees during lunch, and we have high chairs in our kitchens to support and encourage family visits," Anthony says.
"Work isn't suspended" during those times, says Anthony, "but visits are supported by our work culture that provide employees a fair amount of autonomy over how they structure their work days." She says that staff are trusted to prioritize appropriately. "If we have an important meeting or deadline, we reschedule or plan around family visits accordingly," she explains.
To boost the sense of support, Anthony says there is a self-organized email group for parents, where they often share anything and everything parenting-related, ranging from babysitter recommendations to potty training resources to funny stories.
Twilio offers a similar forum and support group for anyone needing to balance family obligations with responsibilities at the San Francisco-based cloud communications company.
Family Nest was launched last year by Shylene D'Addrio, Twilio’s associate corporate counsel, and Sandy Smith, the head of financial planning and analysis. "In addition, this year we will hope to launch some new events that are family focused, including bring your child to work day, a family picnic day, and hosting speakers on issues like work-life balance," a Twilio spokesperson says.
On site, staff can count on "family" dinners every Wednesday night. Begun when the company was still a small startup, the tradition continues with a global staff of over 500 at every location where Twilio has an office. "Lots of employees invite their significant others, spouses, and children, and treat it as a night out for their family and an opportunity to hang out socially with other coworkers and their families," she says.