As the millennial generation starts to have children, the generations who came before—the people who pioneered a better work-life balance—are in a unique position. Can they be supportive mentors and understanding bosses? Or is resentment sure to brew when a formerly prized employee begins showing up bleary-eyed or needs time off for the pediatrician? These questions can be especially urgent when you’re running a leanly staffed start-up, turning your dream business into a potential nightmare.
Lee Caraher, author of Millennials & Management: The Essential Guide to Making It Work at Work, offers tips for senior bosses who’ve found themselves managing new parents.
Reward Talent First off, says Caraher, employees with babies deserve credit for remaining in the workforce. As an employer, you should preserve talent, even when that employee needs some scheduling modifications due to a major life change. “Talent is key. You want to keep it in your organization as long as possible. Finding new talent is hard, and so is losing institutional knowledge. Don’t worry about how a talented employee will come back—just make sure they will. Work to accommodate the new reality,” she urges, even if that means reduced hours or a flex schedule.
Offer Time Off—With Notice Caraher encourages scheduling transparency to “create a culture of a week’s notice.” Many employees are afraid to ask for time off for a ballet recital or a pediatrician’s appointment, and end up doing so at the very last minute. Let your employees know that you expect them to ask for time off as soon as they know they’ll need it. “Show you’re willing to work with people, and the more respectful they’ll be of the team—and the less afraid of asking,” she says.
Let Workers Keep in Touch Also encourage employees to check personal email during the day. It sounds counterintuitive (isn’t that slacking?), but Caraher says it’s actually a stress-reducer. “Checking in reduces surprises,” she says, squelching the likelihood of a parent needing to run out for a last-second emergency and increasing the odds that an employee can stay later if all’s quiet on the home front.
Face Problems Head-On Finally, if you sense that an employee is struggling, address it directly. “Don’t let it be the elephant in the room. Don’t let everyone else talk about it except you,” she urges. Instead, break the issue down: Has the employee been late? Unreachable? Then work together to solve the problem and schedule routine check-ins. “With kids, everything changes every 30 or so days anyway.” So too will the employee’s circumstances. A worker who’s floundering in the winter might be nicely acclimated come spring. If someone is usually productive, give that employee the benefit of the doubt, but implement a new schedule that prevents future slip-ups.
Reassure Cranky Colleagues As for colleagues who might feel resentful if a worker is perceived as receiving special treatment, Caraher says 50% of that is “optics,” meaning that it’s hard to see the real work someone else does. Point this out to the colleague who complains, while recognizing that this person feels overburdened. “Their truth is their truth,” she says. “But ask them to look at the other side. Maybe a new parent has a work-from-home arrangement or works late, after everyone else has signed off for the night. Ask the employee if the work isn’t getting done or if it’s actually affecting other people’s schedules. If not, simply explain the arrangement.”
After all, she says, “whether it’s caring for new babies or elderly parents, it will be each of our turns someday.”
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