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Christina Lattimer

People Discovery

HR Consultant

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Christina’s Counsel: How can I make my workplace more family-friendly?


The challenge

If you are struggling to get the best people to come and work for you, have a high rate of unexplained absence or believe that your employees aren’t giving their best, not least due to stress because their work and domestic lives conflict, it may be worth reviewing how family-friendly your workplace culture is. 
In order to attract and retain the top talent now and into the future, it is important to think of a family-friendly environment as an employee benefit. 
The main reason why employers don’t get it right here tends to be three-fold, however:
  1. They don’t know how to do it
  2. They are afraid that it will have a negative impact on output or results
  3. They simply don’t realise that it’s important.
Nonetheless, going down this route will help you to attract the best talent (who know that they can pick and choose) as people will inevitably opt to work for those employers that allow them to work in a way that fits their own personal circumstances. 
So what do I mean by creating a ‘family-friendly’ environment? In short, there are customs, practices and policies that can be adopted to help staff enjoy and attend to both their home and work life issues effectively. 
Family-friendly practices and policies can include:
  • Flexible working – this includes flexible hours, flexible locations and flexible roles
  • Time out – a practice aimed at helping people care for dependants in the short- and long-term
  • Work breaks – these include career breaks and sabbaticals
  • Employee benefits – these include discounted childcare, elderly care, access to family health schemes, onsite crèches, after-school clubs and holiday clubs.
Another problem, however, is that, even if employers realise that a family-friendly environment plays a key role in their attraction and retention strategies, few know how to articulate and implement suitable practices effectively. 
The aim is to enable staff to enjoy a good work/life balance, while also harnessing their increased loyalty, commitment and enthusiastic efforts. The idea is that if they feel more motivated, productivity, efficiency and profitability should all improve.
Here are five common mistakes that employers often make when trying to create a family-friendly environment, however:
Mistake 1 – Failing to clearly articulate a family-friendly vision
As a result, employees do not understand the intended benefits for either themselves or the business when introducing new practices and policies. 
Mistake 2 – Not clarifying limits and boundaries
A family-friendly culture should improve and energise the organisation’s performance. But it must be introduced within certain parameters and have certain limits. If it begins to have a negative impact, change must be introduced.
Mistake 3 – Offering family-friendly options only to top performers
Some managers are afraid that their workforce may take advantage of their good nature and fail to perform more effectively. As a result, they unconsciously pick and choose those that they will allow to take advantage of the arrangements, or not. 
Mistake 4 – Failing to assess the impact of family-friendly arrangements on co-workers
This means that, while some workers may benefit from such policies, the opposite will be true of others. But this kind of situation will not help to boost overall employee engagement levels.
Mistake 5 – Not training managers adequately
Managers will require training to:
  • Understand the initiative’s limits and boundaries
  • Ensure that everyone gains from the new situation
  • Review patterns and workloads effectively
  • Be confident enough to say ‘no’ when it is fair to do so and such a decision can be justified objectively.
The solution
Here are some suggestions for avoiding these common mistakes:
  1. Articulate boundaries: Use such limits as the acid test before introducing any overarching policies and new measures or dealing with individual requests
  2. Be clear about acceptable work patterns: If compressed hours don’t fit in with your organisational model, for example, don’t offer them
  3. Clarify which parameters will be applied to each measure introduced: If you include time off for domestic emergencies in your family-friendly package, for instance, make it clear that it is not the default position for every set of circumstances. A framework should be introduced, which sets out possible alternatives for workers to consider. If a regular situation develops, an approach to deal with it must be agreed with the employee concerned.
  4. Be imaginative in terms of work models: For instance, would extending working hours into the evening give your employees more flexible options and benefit your customers too? Could staff work from home and you cut accommodation overheads as a result?
  5. Make it clear to senior managers that a family-friendly culture is a win/win situation for everyone: Helping workers to manage their domestic arrangements means that you are helping them perform at their best at work
  6. Manage staff expectations: It is easy for resentment to fester if members of staff feel that they are not being included in the benefits afforded to others. Therefore, it is important to manage perceptions. I once had someone claim that my family-friendly approach excluded them as they didn’t have children, or dependants – that is, until they had to take time off because their dog needed a lifesaving operation.

Christina Lattimer is an HR consultant at HR and leadership development consultancy, People Discovery.

One Response

  1. Should communicate be in here as well?

    Interesting idea, I definitely see flexible working and the like being a larger part of the working world. Mobile society, great communication tools both make it far more managable to find this work/life balance.

    We work with HR teams to implement software like the learning management system – so primarily in the learning and development arena. One way that the stronger HR teams ensure that they are developing a ‘culture of learning’ is to effectively communicate new courses snd programmes as well as their benefits. Social media, email marketing, etc make it far easier to communicate within businesses these days – these same tools could help companies to encourage more of a family friendly culture among the workforce.

    What do you think? Could effective communication be one of the reasons these practices are not being adopted as well as they could be?



    David Evans 

    Commercial Director at accessplanit: training management software specialists

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Christina Lattimer

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