Last week I discussed the tension that exists in the workplace between employees with children vs those without. You can read last week’s blog before continuing here if you wish to get a deeper understanding. If not, then what is important to note is that in the discussion of work-life issues the animosity between the two groups mentioned is often a byproduct of poor communication and a workplace culture that gives advantages to one group over the other. Managers are at the center of this battle and in some cases are fueling the fight.
Here are 6 simple suggestions to help managers ease the tension. They are not all encompassing but they will help.
- Employ a results focused workplace culture. Being results focused takes the emphasis away from physical presence in an office and puts it on the output. It has greater potential to allow for short-term, situation specific flexible arrangements.
- Know employee needs and situations. Every employee is different and every situation is different. As much as possible (and as much as an employee is willing to share) having a rudimentary knowledge of employee needs and life situation will help you navigate conflict and understand reactions or challenges when they come up. Some value family, others pets, and some have a passion for running marathons. It’s all valid and important because those things are core to who they are as people. It also helps if:
- Flexible schedules (and flex culture for that matter) are openly discussed in the office. There’s a delicate balance between openness about schedules and breach of privacy. Generally speaking, if an employee needs to take time off or has elected for an altered schedule let everybody know. Make people’s general schedules known as part of office culture. Burying these arrangements only causes distrust amongst employees.
- Be clear about expectations upfront. Before you hire anybody be clear about expectations about attendance, workload etc. A person should have a good sense of whether a job is a good work-life fit for them. Likewise:
- Be organized and communicate well in advance. Sometimes things need to be done last minute. It happens. I get it. That being said, if certain times of year, certain days, certain events require “all hands on deck” then let it be known well in advance. This gives all employees a chance to arrange their schedule as needed. If something is last minute, then be understanding to life circumstances. Not everybody can (child or no child) can just stop everything in an instant.
- If it comes down to it, don’t mitigate schedule conflicts with family/life situations. If employees can’t work it out themselves and you as the manager needs to be the tiebreaker find another system. A rotation system of some sort can be helpful. If the conflict is over a holiday weekend it may be employee X gets the nod this time, but employee Y will the next time. You could also use seniority although I don’t recommend it because it begins to set up a level of resentment based on years of service vs family situation. In any case, find a more objective way to look at this situation.
When I was single I lived over 1,000 miles from home at one point. I went back to visit family at the Holiday break time and always took substantial time off to make it happen. Often, it was the only time I ever saw family and friends. I let my boss know this, I let my coworkers know it and because of that openness and dialogue an arrangement was made that filled that need for me. Years later I would be a father and I required less days off and more flexibility to come and go to deal with childcare needs and again, due to conversations and a great work-life culture I was able to make that happen as well.
An optimized work-life environment needs to be built on open communication and understanding that all of our situations while different, have merit and importance. It is a lot of hard work but when done right, creates a workplace that is and supportive and satisfying.