Flexible work accommodations benefit companies as much as workers

No matter how you slice it, a majority of U.S. parents of children under age 18 work full or part time.

Among families with children, 89.3% percent had at least one employed parent in 2015, according to the Employment Characteristics of Families Summary conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Among married-couple families with children, 96.7% had at least one employed parent; both parents worked in 60.6% of married-couple families. Among families of other marital statuses with children, the mother was employed in 70.8% of those maintained by mothers in 2015, and the father was employed in 82.1% of those maintained by fathers.

Additionally, the Pew Research Center reports that both parents work full time in 46% of two-parent households. So it isn’t news that moms and dads work more than ever before.

However, as workplace trends evolve and more parents opt for flexibility that allows them to work and be present in their children’s lives, employers need to learn to meet their workers halfway.

Work-life accommodations

Every working parent knows all too well how challenging it can be to balance the juggling act of work and kids. But it may be getting easier: According to a survey by OfficeTeam, 49% of HR managers say their company made policy changes to better accommodate working parents within the past five years.

Some of the family-friendly perks more companies have begun to offer include:

  • Flextime or compressed workweeks: This arrangement allows employees to set their own work schedules, especially their starting and finishing hours.
  • Telecommuting: Telecommuting and telework allow employees to work outside the traditional office or workplace, usually at home or in a mobile situation.
  • Maternity/paternity leave policy: A leave of absence from work granted to a mother or father to care for an infant.
  • Adoption benefits: Some companies offer a stipend to cover adoption-related expenses.
  • Childcare program: This can include on-site or off-site daycare, and after-school and summer programs, as well as sick and emergency child care programs that allow parents to have one fewer thing to worry about in their day.

“We’ve also heard of some companies offering more unique perks such as fertility treatments, freezing eggs, lactation consultants, and shipping breast milk for new mothers,” notes Sasha Truckenbrod, branch manager of OfficeTeam in Madison.

While a lot of the conversation about the changing workplace, especially when it concerns millennials, tends to focus on remote work opportunities, providing employees with the option to work flextime, or split shifts, enables professionals to adjust work schedules to avoid peak commute hours and balance work-family demands, says Truckenbrod. “These arrangements can be effective for a broader range of positions, particularly those jobs for which telecommuting may not be a viable option. Higher level positions, for instance, sometimes require spur-of-the-moment meetings and accessibility to direct reports.”

Programs that support work-life balance can be very effective for companies trying to attract top talent, especially members of the “sandwich generation” — those caring for both children and elderly parents, Truckenbrod explains. “For smaller organizations that may not have as much flexibility in adjusting salaries as larger organizations, offering these types of benefits can level the playing field.”

In the OfficeTeam survey referenced above, nearly 80% of workers said that flexible hours have the greatest impact on their decision to join a company, and flexible work options such as telecommuting can be valuable recruitment and retention tools, particularly in regions where traffic congestion is extending commute times.

“Offering these types of benefits can help employees be more productive at work, and allows them to remain in the workforce,” notes Truckenbrod.



Ask and ye shall receive

While an increasing number of companies are adopting more flexible work environments, many still utilize a more traditional 9-to-5 model or a strict shift schedule due to the nature of the work. That doesn’t mean things won’t change or accommodations can’t be made.

“A good time for new employees to inquire about work-life balance is during a salary negotiation or when meeting with human resources after being hired,” advises Truckenbrod. “Of course, if a professional is well into their career, they can still approach their manager. Nearly 50% of employers have made changes within the last five years to make their organizations more accommodating for their employees. There are a variety of work-life balance options employees can suggest and discuss with their managers to find an appropriate arrangement.”

For workers asking the company to consider work-life benefits it doesn’t currently offer, or looking to receive benefits he or she feels they’re entitled to, Truckenbrod recommends the following: “First, an employee should evaluate whether certain work-life options, such as telecommuting, make sense for the role they play in the organization. If employees are in a position to benefit from certain work-life options, they can write a proposal to their manager(s) explaining how work-life balance can benefit the company.

“If a business case is offered, it shows that the employee took time to carefully consider options,” Truckenbrod adds. “A manager is more likely to consider the request if the employee offers outside research to support his or her rationale.”

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