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JANUARY 28, 2000

Wake Up, and Smell the Coffee: People Flock to Family-Friendly Companies

Excerpts from Love 'Em or Lose 'Em: Getting Good People to Stay


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How are things at home? How are your folks? When was the last time you had a special lunch with a family member who needs more time with you? Is anyone at home complaining about not seeing enough of you?

People quit when rigid workplace rules cause unbearable family stress. Business magazines have spent plenty of ink in recent years on the importance of developing a "family-friendly culture." What does it really mean?

Employees want a workplace that helps them balance the demands of their work and family lives, rather than forcing them to choose one over the other. Organizations that are not family-friendly will definitely have a harder time getting their good people to stay.

Talented employees don't have to look far to find employers that offer child care facilities or subsidies, flexible work schedules, job sharing, telecommuting, eldercare assistance, and maternity and paternity leave programs.

If your organization has these policies in place, great. If not, you have two options. One is to see what other organizations are offering, then go to your manager (and/or human resources department) with information and suggestions. Your second option is to become a more family-friendly manager yourself. We recommend that you pursue both options.

What do we mean by "family?" Mom, Dad, and small children. A single male caring for his aging father. Newlyweds. A Gen-Xer and his dog. One family-friendly strategy won't meet all of these employees' needs. It's critical that you take into account the different types of families in your group. Then think and talk about the approaches that will work best for each of them. Remember, the most accurate way to get this information quickly is simply to ask your employees: "What would make your life easier?" Look for small things that you, as their manager, can do to help.

Here's what drives employees away: Ernie was exhausted. His wife worked too, and they had a six-month-old baby. Ernie wanted to be with their child more, so he began to pick her up at childcare or take her to the doctor. His productivity and work quality remained high but his hours dropped to 45 a week from 55 and looked somewhat erratic. The boss told Ernie that he simply had to return to his previous schedule -- end of discussion. Within two months, Ernie found a new job, at a company with a family-friendly culture and a boss who allowed him flexibility in his schedule.

The next time an employee asks you for different work hours or time off to help a spouse, parent or friend, think about the real costs of saying yes. Will productivity suffer? Will a dangerous precedent be set? Will that employee take advantage of you? More likely, your employees will applaud your open-mindedness.

Some managers mistakenly think that they should clearly separate themselves from their employees' personal lives. You have much more to gain by supporting their lives outside of work. There are many ways to do that. Here are some that managers we've met have tried. Some might work for you and your employees:

-Allowing employees' children to come to work with them occasionally;

-Visiting an employee following a death in the family;

-Accompanying employees to their children's ball games and recitals;

-Inviting an employee and family to lunch;

-Allowing well-behaved pets into the workplace;

-Staying late after work to help employees work on Halloween costumes for their kids;

-Researching eldercare alternatives for an employee's parents;

-Sending birthday cards or cakes to employees' family members;

-Setting up special e-mail and resource areas on the company Intranet for employees' children;

-Getting the company lawyer to help an employee with health-insurance problems.

EXCUSES, EXCUSES. "We've never done that here." "The policies don't support that." "I'd be in hot water with my boss if I allowed that." These are common refrains among managers who are afraid to test the limits of family-friendly (or unfriendly) rules. You have to play by those rules to some degree. But often it pays to get creative.

Job sharing is just one example of a creative solution to a challenging situation. Here are some other strategies and solutions that managers have come up with. Which might work for you?

-If employees must travel on weekends, offer comp time or allow family members to travel with the employee;

-When your employees travel to areas where they have family or friends, give them time off to spend with those people at the beginning or end of a trip;

-Hold a picnic where employees can bring their pets;

-Give your employees a floating day off. Or suggest they go home early on their birthday or anniversary;

-Have a party for your team and their families;

-When an employee asks about working from home, really explore that possibility.

Do some of these ideas seem extreme to you? Talk to your company's recruiter about the options some employers include in recruitment packages. If you think family-friendly means letting your employees accept an occasional personal phone call, it's time to find out what's going on around you. Become a family-friendly manager and keep your talent on your team.

Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans are entrepreneurs and experts in employee retention. Kaye is the president of Beverly Kaye & Associates Inc. and Career Systems International of Scranton, Pa.( Jordan-Evans is the president of Jordan Evans Group, a leadership consulting business based in Woodland Hills, Calif. ( For more on the authors' retention strategies, see

Adapted and excerpted from Love 'Em or Lose 'Em: Getting Good People to Stay

Copyright 1999 by Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans

Reprinted and excerpted with permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or certain other non-commercial uses permitted by copyright law. Available at online and other bookstores or through Berrett-Kohler at (800)929-2929 or


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