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Family: Get friendly - Don't make them choose between work and family

There's been plenty of discussion in recent years on the importance of developing a "family-friendly work culture." But what does it really mean?
Employees are asking for a workplace that helps them balance the demands of their work with their personal lives, rather than forcing them to choose one over the other. In turn, organizations that are not family-friendly will have a much harder time attracting and keeping good people.
But if your organization is not particularly family-friendly, do not despair.
There are things that you can do as a manager to support your employees' lives outside of work.

Redefine and design
A single family-friendly strategy won't meet each of your employee's individual needs. It's critical that you take into account the different types of "families" in your group—it could be a GenX-er and his or her dog—and then consider and discuss the approaches that will work best for each of them. The best way to get this information quickly and easily is simply to ask your employees what would make their lives easier. Then, look for small things in their answers that you might be able to do to help, plus brainstorm with them to create some innovative solutions.

Flex and support
Think flexibly the next time an employee asks you for different work hours or time off to help a spouse, parent or friend. Think about the real costs of saying "yes." Will productivity suffer? Will a "dangerous" precedent be set? Will that employee begin to take advantage of you? Probably it is even more likely that your employees will applaud your open-mindedness and willingness to help in a time of need. Plus, if you set clear expectations and accountabilities for your employees, you'll have even more room to flex when it matters.

To do
Some family-friendly managers have tried the following ideas. Think about them and what else might work for you.

Allow employees' children to come to work with them occasionally, usually to celebrate a special occasion or honor a special need.

  • Invite an employee and his or her spouse, children, parents, or other relatives to lunch.
  • Allow well-behaved pets in the workplace. (yup, they are family, too)
  • Stay late to help employees work on Halloween costumes for their kids.
  • Research eldercare alternatives for an employee who needs help with his or her parents.
  • Send birthday cards to employees' family members.
  • Set up special e-mail and resource areas on the company's Intranet for employees' children.

Pulled the team together to watch a video of an employee's child performing at a high-school event.
Good employees leave family-unfriendly workplaces. If family-friendly means simply allowing your employees to accept an occasional personal phone call, it's time to get up to speed by finding out what's going on around you. There are positive payoffs for your efforts, including the competitive edge that only a loyal, committed workforce can provide.

By Bev Kaye

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