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How Companies Can Really Make Their Workplaces Family-Friendly

Here’s four concrete ways companies can go beyond just giving lip service to the idea of flexible schedules.

How Companies Can Really Make Their Workplaces Family-Friendly
[Photo: Dakota Corbin/Unsplash]

Tech companies are known for having perks like free lunches, game rooms, pets in the office, and happy hour. While a laid-back environment sounds like fun, those things may not be a priority when you’re hiring someone who’s a parent. Moms and dads prefer flexibility, and companies that think they’re doing a good job may be falling short, says Christian Kinnear, managing director of HubSpot’s Europe, Middle East and Africa headquarters and operations.

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“Many companies struggle to successfully create a culture where employees can balance work and life,” says Kinnear. “Marketing a flexible workplace is one thing, but investing the energy, resources, and care to actually build one is another. If we want hire and retain amazing people, especially in the tech industry, then we have to start walking the walk on company culture, because many of them are moms, dads, and, like me, new parents.”

Kinnear became a parent in June 2017, and says he now realizes firsthand how important it is to look at the workplace through a family lens: “Your organization could offer the best parental leave on the planet, but if a mom or dad feels guilty working from home because their child is sick, then there’s still a problem.”

He suggests that companies implement these four policies to become more family friendly:

1. Rethink Schedules

Team bonding is important to create an engaging culture, but your method of socializing might be alienating working parents. Are employees encouraged get to know each other during happy hours? Are most of your team activities after 5 p.m.? asks Kinnear.

“It’s harder for [parents] to grab a 5 p.m. beer in the office or join a last-minute dinner after work,” he says. “Companies can be more thoughtful about social engineering.”

For example, instead of a monthly team dinner, make it a lunch or breakfast. If you’d normally do an evening activity like bowling or a cooking class, consider moving the start time to 3 p.m. instead of 6 p.m. “That’s a small way to create a much more inclusive environment in the office,” he says.

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2. Respect Boundaries

Priorities change when you become a parent. “There’s no more flexibility in staying back, extending a meeting, or last-minute calendar invites during bedtime,” says Kinnear. If your workplace encourages flexible schedules, make sure managers and team members are on board.

“Most companies believe they have a culture of flexibility, but there’s a ton of variation in what that looks like in practice,” he says. “Say you have the flexibility to leave the office at 3 p.m. every Wednesday to pick your kids up from school, but get funny looks from your colleagues when you do. Is that a truly flexible environment?”

Soon after his son was born, Kinnear talked with colleagues and leadership about what his priorities would look like in the future. “They now know that if I get a call that my son is sick, I will drop everything and go. Or that if there’s a doctor’s appointment on the calendar, it can’t be moved,” he says, adding that leaders who practice boundaries are vital. “It’s so important to lead by example, because for employees who are new to an organization or who are individual contributors, it can be intimidating to be direct about boundaries.”

3. Create A Community

Having a community where employees can talk about the challenges of parenthood makes it easier for them to bring their “whole selves” to work, says Kinnear.

“At HubSpot, we have a #parents Slack channel where employees ask each other for advice, share baby photos, celebrate milestones, chat, and joke about the roller-coaster of parenting,” he says. “When there’s a support network in the office, I don’t have to leave my dad hat at home.”

Organizations probably already have a community of parents. You just need to find ways to celebrate and connect it, says Kinnear.

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4. Open Communication

While there is no one-size-fits-all manual for creating a family-friendly workplace, managers should start by leading with empathy, says Kinnear. “I’m speaking from the perspective of a parent, but I believe putting ourselves in our employees’ shoes is the first step to helping dads, moms, brothers, sisters, and all employees to have the flexibility they need to be successful in both work and in life,” he says.

The best way to understand what working parents need is to get their feedback, says Kinnear. “That might be through a quarterly survey, anonymous feedback tools, focus groups, or one-to-one conversations,” he says. “Whatever the format, companies have to be proactive about not just getting, but listening to feedback from working parents.”

Feedback can be uncomfortable at times, but it’s important in helping you focus on the right issues. “For example, fertility isn’t something people want to talk about at work,” says Kinnear. “It’s personal, it’s hard, and it’s awkward. But if we didn’t start talking about fertility at HubSpot, we may not have known just how many families struggle with it.”

In 2018, HubSpot started to cover $7,500 of egg freezing for women, and Kinnear says it was direct feedback from employees that prompted the addition of the benefit.

“It’s a company’s job to create a culture where employees can do their best work,” he says. “Chances are, you have employees who are parents or soon-to-be-parents. That means solving for their flexibility and happiness should be a priority. I don’t think you can claim to care about your employees if you’re neglecting a subset of them.”

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