Family-friendly work practices - main region

Family-friendly workplaces

A class room with children and their hands raised in the air

Family-friendly policies are typically thought of as benefits for working parents, however as the ‘sandwich’ generation has become more prevalent in our society, where working adults are raising children while also providing care to elderly family members, the definition should expand to include any person who is struggling with rigid work frameworks, and the need to provide care to a person that depends on them.  
Ask any working caregiver, and they’ll tell you of the challenges involved in juggling professional and family life commitments. Businesses have recently made efforts to adapt to the unique needs of working caregivers and their responsibilities, but more can and should be done.  
In an environment of acute skills shortages, businesses that can implement strategies to make it easier for workers with caregiving duties to return, or contribute more fully, to a job could gain an advantage in securing the skills that they need to meet their growth ambitions

What constitutes family-friendly policies?

Family inclusive workplace practices are operating methods and organisational structures that allow employees to balance their work commitments with their family responsibilities. This could range between simply offering flexible start and finish times around a core working hours commitment to part-time employment, job sharing or onsite childcare. 
Regardless of the solutions offered, family-friendly work practices enable carers to balance the competing demands of family and career.  

The benefits of a family inclusive workplace

In an employment market that’s battling with skills shortages, anything organisations can provide to encourage deeper participation is going to be a benefit. 
Not only can it allow them to tap into currently unrealised capacity, it also demonstrates a business’ commitment to genuinely support employees and therefore act as a retention and attraction tool for in-demand skills.  
Family-friendly policies and processes also help to reduce absenteeism, improve productivity and create a more highly engaged, motivated and loyal workforce.  
Perhaps though, most importantly, family friendly work arrangements typically help to improve de-gendering gender diversity through the provision of equal family-friendly working arrangements for all employees with care-giving demands, organisations can further improve diversity in their workforce.

How to create a family-friendly workplace

There are various strategies you can adopt to achieve a family-friendly workplace. Some are offered as standard to all employees while others are proposed when individual employees request greater flexibility or have worked at an organisation for a particular length of time.  
  1. Paid parental leave: Perhaps the most common family-friendly work practice. This involves offering paid parental leave to both primary and secondary caregivers, beyond the government legislated allowance.
  2. Unpaid parental leave: Most Australian employees are entitled to a certain period of unpaid leave when they become new parents. Employers can also offer the option for additional periods of unpaid leave in recognition that there are times when older children, not only newborns, need a parent to be fully present.

  3. Keep-in-touch days: These days allow managers to stay in touch with employees while they are taking time out to be with their families. This means the connection is retained between employee and employer and makes it easier for them once the time comes to return to work.  

  4. Flexible working hours: Flexible working hours allows an employee to alter the hours they work, such as by shifting their start and finish times or negotiating a part-time arrangement. There is a growing understanding that as long as an employee meets the set outputs required and makes time to connect with the team more broadly, the hours they work to outside of that can be dictated by their home life and care-giving responsibilities.  

  5. Remote working: Shut downs during the height of the pandemic demonstrated that working remotely can work. This way of working has become a standard that all workers now expect, especially caregivers as they look to balance work and family responsibilities. As businesses and employees negotiate the terms of remote working as suits their team's needs, it's important to ensure that managers understand how to manage a remote employee and what caveats you may need in place. And that employees clearly understand the commitments asked of them. Remote working helps provide the support parents and caregivers need to balance their work with caring responsibilities

  6. Employee assistance programs: An Employee Assistance Program, or EAP, offers support and assistance for a range of work-related issues, including for caregivers struggling to address work and family commitment conflicts. Make sure all employees are made aware of how to access yours. 

  7. Mental health support: Caregivers can face a range of unique challenges, regardless of who they are providing care to. Offering continuous mental health support at work will help keep their mental wellbeing on track  

A family-friendly culture

Underscoring all the above strategies results in a family-friendly workplace culture that welcomes those who are juggling often-times competing commitments of work and family with open arms. In such a culture, managers take the time to listen to what their staff require to remain in employment and balance conflicting demands on their time, offering public support and working to erase any perception that employees who take up these policies are less committed to their career.
Finally, such a family-friendly workplace culture fosters an inclusive environment that understands that every employee, and their family commitments outside of work, is unique. An individualised approach that’s sympathetic to the demands people juggle outside of the workplace should be adopted. For this approach to work, a degree of vulnerability from both sides of the working equation needs to be encouraged. Managers will need to actively foster a culture of trust to enable people to open up about the challenges they are facing and work collaboratively to find a solution that can work for everyone.  

Traditional roles have been challenged

COVID-19 shut downs brought our work and home lives closer together. Secondary caregivers were suddenly much more exposed to the stark reality of the very real challenges faced by primary caregivers on a day-to-day basis as work and home collided. In the case of fathers participating in the day-to-day parenting responsibilities of their children, research demonstrates that many men worry that taking advantage of family-friendly policies at work will negatively impact their career.  
Employers, therefore, need to communicate that this is not the case and encourage more men to take advantage of the benefits that are on offer without consequence. 

Open a dialogue with staff

Every family is different and a one-size-fits-all approach shouldn’t be taken here. Having regular catch ups with staff about their individual situation and the family-friendly arrangements at their discretion allows you to work with your teams to deliver the best solutions for them.  
It is important to be mindful that as caregiver requirements change, the support that employees in this situation can change, too. Check in with your employee from time to time and, if required, reconfigure arrangements to align with new requirements. 
Family-friendly work provisions can benefit all employees, not just working caregivers, and allow you to attract and retain employees, creating a motivated and loyal workforce while also improving diversity in your workforce. Just remember to involve your employees in the process so that they are being heard about their needs, challenge traditional stereotypes and underpin your strategies with a genuine family-friendly work culture. 


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