As both an executive and busy mother, Andrea Higham knows both sides of the working parent coin. Higham worked her way through the corporate ranks to hold her current position of senior director of corporate equity and partnership at Johnson & Johnson, but she is also head mom in charge of six-year old Alex and four-year old Charlotte.
As a manager, Higham says she provides employees with a considerable amount of flexibility, mainly because she knows the value of balancing work and family.
“As a working mother with two small children, I understand the stressful balance that parents face,” she said. “For me in particular, it’s all about getting your job done well but still being able to be just as attentive at home. If that means your child is sick and you need to work from home, by all means work from home.”
Numerous studies have shown happy, supported employees make better workers. The University Minnesota published "Changing Work and Work-Family Conflict: Evidence from the Work, Family, and Health Network" in 2014, a study that examined controlled groups of employees who were given more freedom to work when and how they chose versus a group that worked normal office hours. Not surprisingly, the group who had more flexibility outperformed the group required to adhere to a strict office schedule.
Erin L. Kelly, sociologist and report author told the University of Minnesota news source Discover why flextime creates a better employee. "This study gave us the chance to look very carefully at how modifying the workplace can effectively address work-family stresses," she said. "The purpose was to help employees work more effectively and more sanely, so they can get their work done well but also address their personal and family needs."
Highham, for her part, says she would rather have a base of working parents who she can help balance family and work, than a team of employees who sneak out of the office to pick up children or fabricate excuses when their child is sick. “I have the best employees," she said. "Whether a parent needs to duck out to go to their child’s soccer game or one of my employees has to care for an ailing parent, we find a way so they can meet that family obligation and be successful and productive at their job.”
Higham says that overall culture at Johnson & Johnson is family and balance. “Each manager can make the call about how much flexibility they want to offer to their employees, but the overall culture and several programs are geared toward work and family balance," she said. "The wonderful aspect is that I have a hard working, high performing team--there’s no issue if they need to meet family needs, because they are always hitting their mark at work too.”
Trust In Your Employees Creates a More Productive Workplace
Online real estate marketplace, Zillow is one real-life example of a company helping employees work more sanely and effectively. Zillow was recently heralded in the news for providing extended maternity and paternity leave, along with $1,000 bonus for new parents.
“It’s all about trust,” said Amy Bohutinsky, Zillow's chief operating officer. “Our employees are highly productive and goal oriented--and many are also very involved at home with their family too. We are able to strike that balance because once we hire someone we want them to know we hired that employee for his or her talent and tenacity--we trust that they will be productive.”
Like Higham, Bohutinsky says if that means leaving the office at 5:30 p.m. everyday or taking time to see their child in the school play, Zillow is happy to support the employee. “We also do a lot of listening,” she says. “A few years ago one of our new mother employees was traveling and also pumping breast milk for storage while on the road. She was completely traumatized when she was flying home and a TSA agent forced her to dispose of the milk. That story prompted a program at Zillow where we will pay for nursing mothers to ship their milk home while they are on the road.”
Bohutinsky says Zillow offers other family-friendly programs but stresses companies will have productive, happy employees if they listen to their needs and provide benefits that support their lifestyle.
“You can include benefits that encourage employees to stay late at work such as free dinners or dry cleaning services,” she said. “But that just rewards people for staying late, it doesn’t support the employees’ needs long-term. What ends up happening is you have a burned out employee and your retention rate isn’t very healthy.”
Along with the other founders, Bohutinsky says she has been with Zillow since the company’s inception. “We’ve all gotten married and started families while at Zilllow,” she said. “As we’ve grown with the company, we’ve seen the importance of the family and work balance and have carried that through as the company grew.”
Family Life Breaks Down Barriers Across Industries
The good news for working parents is that family benefits extend beyond Silicon Valley or multi-national groups. For many working mothers and fathers, industries beyond tech-start ups required long hours in the office and little to no consideration for the family.
Attitudes are changing and industries like manufacturers, retailers and financial institutions are making “family first” a priority. John Daniel, chief human resource officer at First Tennessee Bank, describes how work-life balance is achieved among employees.
“We have a strong culture that focuses on high levels of engagement,” he said. “Our company’s goal is to create something special and have unique offerings that speak to our employees’ needs.”
Daniel cites one of the bank’s family supportive programs, Prime-time benefits. “The program allows for flexibility, so if employees need to leave early to take their child to the doctor or go to their kid’s game, they can do that,” Daniel said. Under this classification, employees may work reduced hours while retaining benefit coverage. By working 20 to 32 hours per week, First Tennessee employees have more time to fulfill family and personal responsibilities, while continuing to receive all of the benefits provided by the company to full-time employees.
“We lead by example,” Daniel added. “Our CEO and managers have families too and employees will see them leave work to meet needs at home.”
Of course flextime doesn’t always symbiotically work across all professions. In the case of a customer contact job, striking a balance isn’t as easy. “There is always that challenge when you have front-line, customer-facing employees, because the nature of their position provides them with less flexibility," he said. "You always need a certain number of staff members to attend to customers’ needs.”
Daniel says front line staff managers are given the ability to support the culture of flexibility despite limitations.
“I agree that it still comes down to trust in the employee that he or she will do their job and do it well, “ Higham said. “Some of my highest producing employees are working parents. They take their job just as seriously as they do their family responsibilities so generally, we don’t have a productivity problem by being more flexible and allowing employees more freedom.”