Working parents can get it done. They can get things done at work with kids to take care of on top of it. Packing lunches, school drop-offs and pickups, and sports practices to a non-parent seems nearly impossible to accomplish on their own, let alone with a full-time job to worry about.
One place where that isn't always praised is at work, but it doesn't have to be that way. While leniency is a fine line for parents versus non-parents, there are ways to be a better boss to working parents.
1. Be clear about daily schedules.
Gone are the days of the typical 9-to-5 job. The workplace has become more flexible, including being more accommodating about employees' schedule. As the boss or manager, it's important to be absolutely clear with your employees about their schedule, including when they should start their day and end it.
"While for many company leaders having no real set time works just fine, chances are your employees are less comfortable with the ambiguity," said Stacey Engle, president at Fierce, an organization that trains executives in effective communication techniques. "Do you truly not care when your employees arrive as long as they put in an eight-hour day? Or would you prefer a more standard schedule?"
Engle suggested that stating your preference and backing that up with solid reasoning can put employees at ease, because they will know what is expected of them and are aware of any leniencies in scheduling.
Having a formal policy in place is more difficult with some gray areas than it is with things like paid time off or remote work.
"You can have a policy that employees should not work past 6 p.m., but that isn't realistic if you are up against a deadline, or if something comes up off hours," Engle said.
2. Within reason, be flexible with time off.
When I think back to all the days my mom had to take off work because I was sick, it never occurred to me how it impacted her job. Did her co-workers get frustrated that she was leaving to tend to a sick child? Did they ever think she was lying just to get out of working?
"Someone's kid has a fever for the third day in a row. Or perhaps their kids are starting in the state championship game or have a solo in a midday concert," said Engle. "All of these things are important, and for parents, being there is a no-brainer. However, missing work for personal reasons can be stressful for your employees – much of it being caused by unnecessary worry about what the boss might think."
It's important, as an employer, to be upfront about what is expected when it comes to those situations. Giving unlimited time off is not realistic, unless that is the culture of your particular company. Let your employees know that there is some flexibility, and any missed work can be made up. If the time off needs to extend for longer periods of time, communication is key. Employees should keep the employer abreast of how they will make up the missed work and the timeframe for getting it done.
3. Be careful to avoid special treatment.
"While people with kids may have more frequent emergencies come up last minute, all employees need flexibility at times – to take care of a parent, a friend and, of course, themselves," Engle said. "Employers need to respect these needs, just as they do those of working parents."
Engle also noted that the burden, per se, is not always on the employer. Every employee, parent or not, should feel comfortable enough to request flexibility in their schedule or time off if needed.
"If you need to make a yoga class every Monday at 5 p.m. because it keeps you sane, make it clear you can't stay after 4:45 that day. Period," said Engle. "And if you need a few days off to take care of a family emergency, even if family is your pet turtle, employers should respect that as well."
Non-parent employees also shouldn't see this flexibility as "perks," as the opportunity should apply to all employees, not just parents.
"Parents, as a whole, often do have higher flexibility needs, but that isn't to say other employees don't for other reasons," Engle said.
4. Be respectful of boundaries.
Expecting round-the-clock work from employees is also not realistic, especially for parents. If they have dinner, bath time and bedtime to deal with, they probably won't answer a 7 p.m. email. This even goes for non-parents.
Engle said this doesn't mean they aren't committed to their job; it just means they have a life outside of work, which actually makes them able to do their job more effectively.
"If you need something after hours, be respectful of that ask, and realize you may not get the answer you want immediately," said Engle. "In an emergency, of course, there are exceptions, but be sure to be appreciative and recognize they are taking time away from their family and friends to make it happen."
All of these suggestions, said Engle, come down to a simple recommendation: Have a conversation.
"Make sure your employees know what is expected of them, how to communicate with their boss when something comes up, and be respectful of boundaries of all your employees."