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flexibility as a perk

My seven year old is home sick with me today. When I started this business, one of the main reasons beyond just wanting to try it, was so that I could balance being mom and worker. At the time, my husband worked for a company that did not allow working parents any extra flexibility. Had I gone back to work in an environment like that, deciding who was going to stay home when our child was sick would have been a struggle every time. Since I am the sole keeper of my schedule now and I answer only to me, we never have a discussion. B is sick, he stays home with me. It makes times like this a non-issue in our house and we all need things that are non-issues.

When I chat with small business clients about perks they can offer, I bring this up. I explain that working with a working parent when they have a sick child, when that child has a school play they want to attend, when that child has soccer practice that requires them to leave a bit early on Tuesdays, may be the most valuable perk they can give. To a mom or dad trying to juggle work and home, knowing they have a little flexibility to do so without fear of losing their job can relieve a tremendous amount of stress.

It does take more than talk though. It’s one thing to say you allow for flexibility, it’s another to actually give it. It is something that should be planned for, budgeted for (more in a moment) and explained as any benefit would be. It then has to be given, without judgement or angst, in the way the benefit is designed.

Design:
As with any benefit design or perk, the first step is deciding who is eligible. Is this open to the entire company? As much as possible, I would encourage it to be a benefit for everyone. I realize there are some shops, manufacturing firms for example, that at first glance can’t think about letting someone just pick up and leave because their kid is sick, but after thinking a bit harder, there is usually a way to allow it to happen with minimal disruption. The point is to think through these scenarios and ask yourself, how would you adjust for the workload if certain people had to be out or leave suddenly due to a parental issue.

Benefit:
The easiest way to offer this benefit is to let a working parent with a child issue work from home for the day. B is home sick with me today, but I will still work as he is resting. What I can’t accomplish during the day, I will do once his father gets home to take over. However, as in the manufacturing scenario above, I realize not all positions can work from home. In this case, I suggest my clients offer a separate time off bucket that is designated for “need to be a parent time”. This time can accrue and have the same rules that your other time off follows. The reason I encourage a separate time off accrual for parent time is that requiring employees to use sick or vacation time eliminates the idea that this is a separate perk. It tells the employee that while you appreciate their need to be a parent, you aren’t going to give them any special accommodations to do so. If you want this to be a perk, it has to be a separate line item.

Of course, flexibility in schedules works here as well. It may be that the parent does not need any time off, but they need a different schedule a few days a week or once in a while. Building these possibilities in to the design plan and budgeting for time off perks is important to overall success.

Execution:
As I think about how I work, I know that it is a perk I want to give anyone who works for me. I decide when and where I work. I may work 8-5 one day and only work 2-6 the next. I know the work I have to do and I work it into my life. When I’m ready to hire, I want whoever I hire to be able to do the same. If they decide that they want to go to the grocery on a Tuesday at 10am and therefore will do their work later in the day, fine. As long as the work gets done I don’t care when it gets done.

But here’s the kicker. Saying that and doing it are two different things. If I call that employee Tuesday at 10am and find out they are at the grocery, I really can’t be upset. I have to be ok with it because that is how I have designed the work to be. I can only be upset when the work isn’t accomplished.

This may be the hardest part of all of this. If we have designed the benefit and developed a work-around for when employees need to use it, we can’t get upset when they do. We can only get upset when it starts interfering with their work. The problem then is not the benefit, but how the employee is using or abusing it.

The bottom line is, in companies where this perk has been developed as a true benefit, the upside far outweighs the downside. This, possibly more than any other perk, fosters employee loyalty. Loyalty to the company, to the job and to it’s leaders. Knowing that a company cares about how a person balances being a parent with working is worth almost everything to many.

Does your company offer this as a perk? I would love to hear how it works. You can contact me directly or share your thoughts in the comments below.

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