The needs of family life have always filtered into working life. Now, as we move into new careers and more families have dual incomes, employers are finding that family-friendly policies are necessary to keep quality employees and they’re designing working schedules to accomodate them.
Parents have specific needs that some corporations meet by providing onsite daycare, child-care referral services, sick child daycare, parenting courses, job sharing, telecommuting, family leave, flex-time and much more. Even as these policies become more common, conflicts remain. Benefits are sometimes stigmatized, which can keep people from actually using the programs. While some employees can take paid leave to attend a school function, co-workers may look down on them for not being “team players.” But some of the stigmas will erode as it becomes more common to incorporate family issues into working time.
For the employee who is also a parent, the important thing is to realize that with research and perserverance you can find a job with a family-friendly corporation, or you can present new policy proposals to your boss. Many companies realize that if an employee is happy in their home life, they’ll work better for the company.
Finding The Right Employer
When looking for a new job, investigate:
- The company’s family-friendly policies. Try to get a feel for their authenticity.
- What current employees say about how the company responds to family issues.
- The countless books and magazine articles outlining which big companies offer such programs.
- A smaller company where the directors are likely to get to know you and your work performance personally. This could be a consideration if you need to make special family-related requests.
Other considerations include how much time you need to deal with appointments, school-related issues, daycare and the numerous other demands placed on your time. One answer might be finding a job with a flexible schedule.
If you don’t want to look for a new job, consider approaching your employers about flex-time. They might be quite receptive to the idea as it often cuts down on absenteeism, turnover and ultimately increases productivity. Before doing so, here are some questions to consider:
- Will I suffer any personal or professional penalties in making my request?
- Am I discussing my ideas with the final decision maker, or will I have to go higher up? Do all the parties involved know my work habits?
- What is my backup plan? Am I willing to compromise?
- Where is the best place for me to present my proposal?
- Is the timing right? Would my proposal be more easily accepted at the beginning of a new fiscal year?
- If my plan is rejected, will I be hindered professionally?
Of course, the more forward-thinking and family-friendly your employer is, the better chance you have of succeeding in your request. A job with a flexible schedule may be part of the solution to balancing work and family.
The Family And Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
If you work for a company that employs more than 50 people, the FMLA allows:
- Up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a newborn, a newly adopted child, to care for a seriously ill family member or to recover from a serious illness.
Bear in mind that state law, a union contract or the American with Disabilitites Act may grant you more than 12 weeks of unpaid leave.
The downside to FMLA is that it currently covers less than half of America’s workers. It assumes people can financially afford to take unpaid time off, which is seldom the case. Also, the employer is allowed to determine some aspects of how the leave is administered which results in some confusion. If you have any questions, the Department of Labor provides a guide or you can consult with a lawyer specializing in labor laws.