Why Comprehensive Family-Friendly Workplace Policies Matter
As most busy women, I am swamped at work right now. At my state government agency, we often have “feast or famine” periods, which often correspond to state budgets, budget timelines, or politics. Gratefully, I’ve been in a feast period for a little while. I like being in feast mode. I like being busy. I like the feeling that I’m producing great work that will be useful and meaningful for society at large. Which is why I’m terribly disappointed that I’m not working today.
I should be working right now. I could be working right now. But instead, I’m sitting on my sofa typing these words onto my laptop while my sick toddler watches Calliou in French and dozes off and on. Why would I choose to write a blog over staying on top of my meaningful work, especially when taking this day off will be one fewer day I’ll get for my maternity leave coming up? Well, I wouldn’t. This is the situation in which millions of working parents find themselves when companies and agencies and organizations choose to park themselves in the last century and refuse to have family-friendly workplace policies such as flexible scheduling, telecommuting, paid family leave, and others.
There are a lot of reasons why companies and agencies do this. Some buy in to the archaic, and false, views that it’s too expensive. Some are run by people who started working when men primarily comprised the workforce, who have a wife at home taking care of raising children and keeping the household, and who think that traditional gender roles and workplace policies are the right way to do things. In my case, policies are determined not by what makes the most sense or adheres to evidence-based practices, but by what appears to appease the most people who have the ability to publicly criticize the agency, many of whom don’t believe the agency should exist in the first place.
Of course, none of these reasons make sense. We know that family-friendly workplace policies have major positive impacts on both employer and employee. These policies increase productivity, job satisfaction, and commitment to work, not to mention the health and well-being of employees and economic stability. They also attract high-quality talent and decrease turnover. Paid family leave can single-handedly improve the lives of families, increase our society’s economic well-being, protect infant and maternal health, promote gender equity, AND improve the bottom line for businesses. Predictable scheduling, which mostly affects low-wage workers, can improve income volatility, help families remain stable, and can improve the economy. And affordable childcare subsidies can help stabilize families and improve their economic status.
Few companies or government agencies have all of these policies in place. Most companies have none. Some jurisdictions across the country are taking matters into their own hands. My own beloved California is one of three states that has a paid family leave law. However, the law has several loopholes that prevent many people from utilizing it. One of those loopholes is that it doesn’t cover public employees at all (hence part of my reluctance to waste a vacation day today that I could be using in a couple of months). And in San Francisco, where I live, policy makers have increased the usability of paid family leave by requiring companies that meet the criteria to supplement the wage replacement that paid family leave offers so that employees receive full pay. San Francisco has also led the state and nation in granting certain employees the right to request a flexible work arrangement and giving the employer the right to refuse only for legitimate business reasons. The city also requires retail and restaurant employers to provide a good faith written estimate of employees’ expected minimum number of scheduled shifts per month, as well as the days and hours of those shifts, in addition to providing schedules two weeks in advance. These policies allow employees to plan ahead with childcare and other family responsibilities. Companies like Cisco, AT&T, Intel, and McKesson are regularly featured in lists of companies with the best telecommute policies.
With a more reasonable and sane policy at my own agency, I could be working today instead of writing this. After some sporadically changing policies, some of us do have the ability to telecommute. However, today, as I write this instead of working toward completing my tasks before maternity leave, I cannot telecommute. Because I already had my telecommute day this week, and that day can never be changed or switched or swapped. Regardless of how much sense it would make for me to be working today. Although it could certainly be worse. My agency has a modicum of sense. For example, in addition to allowing some of the people to telecommute some of the time, we have the ability to “flex” our schedules: People can come in at 7:30 a.m. if that works for them or at 9:30 a.m. if that works for them, as long as they work their full eight hours. I would argue that these family-friendly workplace policies should be expanded to make full sense to the average person, as well as to take advantage of the business benefits they would afford.
I’m hopeful that as more millennials enter the workforce and demand better workplace policies that offer better work-life balance, all of us will benefit. In the meantime, I will cruise social media while I could be working.