Being the parent of a young child can be challenging under the best of circumstances, especially when the demands of parenting are added to those of a job. And when inevitable problems occur — such as a child becoming sick or daycare arrangements falling through — employee stress can reach hazardous levels.
However, some issues can inadvertently be created by routine job-related developments that can be avoided with a little sensitivity to parents’ childcare arrangements. Regardless of where an employee’s children are being supervised (by an in-home care provider, at a childcare center or another arrangement), timing can be critical. Sometimes, all it takes to cause problems with a caregiver is for a parent to work a few minutes longer than usual and end up picking up his or her kids late.
While employers may be tempted to say childcare is a personal problem, those personal problems can disrupt the workplace. And with a little understanding and forethought, they may be avoidable.
Start by making it a priority to keep employee schedules predictable, if your industry allows it. Many times, parents can accommodate changes in their job parameters if they have a little warning. But last-minute rush jobs often force parents to work late at the last minute and that can play havoc with childcare arrangements.
For that reason, it may be smart to avoid scheduling meetings at the beginning or end of the day. For example, if a meeting is set for first thing in the morning, employees can be thrown off if there’s even a minor delay when transitioning children to their daycare arrangements. If a caregiver arrives just a few minutes late, an employee might have to risk being hit with speeding tickets to make it to the meeting on time. And you could end up losing good employees who require more flexibility in dealing with childcare.
In the same way, if a meeting is scheduled for near the end of the day, and it runs over, employees with young children will face the dilemma of either leaving the meeting early, or arriving late at the daycare center. In some cases, arriving late to pick up the kids — even by a few minutes — can add significantly to the cost of childcare or cause the loss of a childcare provider who requires punctuality.
A related accommodation for parents is simply granting them maximum flexibility in their working hours, if that’s reasonable for your business. As long as employees get their work done on time, and their colleagues without childcare challenges don’t complain, can you permit them some flexibility?
A Helping Hand
Many jobs require an employee’s presence at specific times. Yet if coworkers can fill in for an employee who must attend to a child-related crisis, a work scheduling system that makes that possible will be highly valued by parents. It’s helpful to address this possibility ahead of time.
Along similar lines, job-sharing arrangements enable parents to work out scheduling issues on their own with a coworker, leaving you out of the equation.
As the chart at the bottom indicates, this practice is relatively uncommon, however. Specifically, fewer than one in five employers surveyed by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the Families and Work Institute allow “at least some” employees to job share.
Work Flexibility Trends
SHRM and the Families and Work Institute have been monitoring a variety of employer policies for nearly 30 years. Their 2016 study found that the prevalence of various “flexibility” arrangements has been holding steady during the past four years. More specifically, the study found:
- An increase in the percentage of employers allowing “at least some” employees to return to work gradually after childbirth or adoption (from 73% in 2012 to 81% in 2016),
- An increase in the percentage of employers allowing at least some employees to receive special consideration after a career break for personal/family responsibilities (from 21% in 2012 to 28% in 2016),
- An increase in the percentage of employers allowing at least some employees to work some of their regular paid hours at home on a regular basis (from 33% in 2012 to 40% in 2016), and
- A decrease in the percentage of employers allowing at least some employees to take time off during the workday to attend to important family or personal needs without loss of pay (from 87% in 2012 to 81% in 2016).
The study’s authors believe that the prevalence of flexible work policies will begin to pick up after a period of relative stability because “as more organizational leaders who have built their careers in inflexible workplaces retire, their successors from Generations X and Y may well push for greater workplace flexibility.”
The authors predict that the continuing advancement of technology and global product and talent markets “may also create new opportunities for employers to offer flexibility that was previously unimaginable.”
Finally, the phrase “Sandwich Generation” was coined long ago, but it remains a potent concept today. Employees who are juggling care arrangements for aging parents as well as young children might also be known as members of a “vice grip generation.” Many of the same flexible workplace policy concerns of parents caring for young children apply to children of elderly parents who depend on their offspring for daily supervision.
There will always be limits to how much work scheduling flexibility you can offer, without taking a toll on productivity or creating resentment among other employees. Juggling the needs of your parent-employees, the concerns of your employees who don’t have kids and the demands of your industry will likely be ongoing. But your willingness to make reasonable adjustments where possible may put you head and shoulders above other companies and may secure the loyalty of your parent-employees.