Thursday, September 13, 2007

Determining if a company is family friendly

I’ve been covering the work/life debate for the last 20 years, and the one thing that gets on my last nerve is some of the “best of” lists that come out every year, touting the most “family friendly” companies or the “most flexible” workplaces.

The reason it irks me is because I spend a lot of time hearing from the employees of some of those companies, and what they tell me is this: what actually goes on in the workplace is sometimes a whole different ballgame than what is portrayed in those lists.

Lori Long, a human resources management consultant, and author of “The Parent’s Guide to Family-Friendly Work,” says she has heard many of the same stories, and that’s one of the reasons she wrote her book. She agreed that there are “canned” responses to questions about family friendly workplaces, and many employers do not actually make sure those policies are being carried out by managers.

She says that while those lists can be helpful, anyone relying on them as their sole piece of information on a workplace is making a big mistake. The key, she says, is that anyone wanting to find a truly family-friendly employer has to do a little detective work.

In her book, one of the things she suggests is evaluating a potential boss. This makes a lot of sense, since even if a company makes the top of the “best of” list, it doesn’t mean the boss you work for has to follow any of those practices. (A public relations person once told me that the big project for her department that year was to make sure the company was on one of these “best of” lists – even though the employer didn’t really use family-friendly policies on a consistent or widespread basis. The company did make the list, and everyone in public relations had a big celebration because the top brass was so happy.)

So, here are some ideas from Long’s book if you’re considering a job offer and want to make sure the boss is really going to walk the talk regarding a family-friendly work environment:

How is performance measured? Long says “if you get a response such as, ‘well, as long as I see everyone here working every day, I know everyone is doing fine,’ run!”
Is overtime work common? Is so, how much notice do you give when overtime work is needed?• How do you communicate with your employees? Do you need to meet face-to-face with the boss every day? Can employees work independently?
What traits do you value in am employee? If the boss focuses on showing up on time every day, the he or she may not appreciate the person who gets things done, but on a more flexible schedule.
How would you describe your management style? If the focus is on rules and compliance, the boss may not be capable of being flexible.
What kind of benefits does the company offer? If the company offers family friendly benefits, and the boss is aware of them, that’s a good thing.
Why did the person who held this job before leave? It’s a good sign if the person left for a promotion within the company, and a less favorable one if the boss doesn’t have any insight at all. It could show he or she doesn’t have good relationships with subordinates.

Finally, as Long pointed out, flexibility in the workplace will only come about when companies can’t get qualified candidates to come on board without it. Read the “best of” lists to keep yourself informed, but know that the real answers will come with some informed sleuthing by you.


Anonymous said...

First, it is incredibly unfortunate that companies would do something like this -- but many, many do.

The most important influence on a position, regardless of the company or any ranking, is your manager. So this is a good list.

While the article is specifically oriented to "family friendly," I would add that it cannot be the only measure for taking the position.

Pay, commute, advancement possibilities, and the content of the job are also important.

I think you'd agree with this and are just highlighting the specifics on family friendly, but thought I'd through in this reminder. It is the entire package.

Great post.

Anita said...

You're right in that I was only speaking about family-friendly possibilities, but you do make a very valid point that things like pay, commute and advancement should be asked about by ALL job seekers. And, now that I think about it, those issues affect being family friendly or not, also. If you're commuting three hours a day, or making barely enough to pay the bills, those also affect your family life.