My son Leo turned four last week and as I was going back through my photos, soaking in the chubby legs, tiny fingers, and snuggles, I was filled with gratitude and excited for the birthday celebrations. I remember obsessing about when he was going to hit certain milestones, that first smile, and wondering if he was ever going to stop crawling alongside our dog and learn to walk. While taking a stroll down memory lane – or more aptly through Google Photos – I came across a picture of Leo on the floor of my old office on a changing mat with former CFRC Executive Director, Elisha Freeman, holding wipes and a diaper, ready to clean Leo up. Former staff member Patrick Bryan was also looking in the office, probably listening to one of us share a story about our babies. My son was 8 weeks old in this photo and I am pretty sure I had one of the few bosses in the world that would offer to change your baby’s diaper. Leo was 7 weeks old when I returned to work and despite being on all the waitlists, an infant spot was not available yet.
Luckily for me, my family, and Leo, the incredible leadership at Children & Family Resource Center allowed me to bring Leo to work with me three days a week. This was before we had “perfected” telecommuting, so payroll and bills still needed to be printed and grant documentation all needed physical backup. Most of the time, Leo slept, nursed, and pooped like newborns do; he would also start crying like newborns do and I would have to cut a phone call short or leave the room. While the situation was not always ideal, I was comforted knowing I had the support of my employer.
Data from the Department of Labor shows that in 1970, 38% of the labor force was female. In 2016, it went up to 47% and at the beginning of 2020, that number was up to 50.4%. According to statistics from Family Forward NC (collected before Covid), 75% of US mothers and 50% of US fathers say they have passed up work opportunities, switched jobs, or quit to care for their children. Forty percent of parents nationwide say they have left a job because it lacked flexibility. Covid has only exacerbated these situations and families are struggling to juggle everything. Today’s family’s dynamics also look different than they did in 1970 and employer policies that accommodate a two-parent models only are leaving many families behind. To retain employees and support working parents, employers need to adapt policies to be more accommodating to families in general. Not everyone can allow nursing parents to bring their babies to work if they are in jam, but there are many other things employers can do to create a family friendly workforce.
-The opportunity to work remotely is now one of the most beneficial policies an employer can offer families who may have young children at home or need to be supervising schoolwork.
– Paid parental leave that includes fathers, adoptive parents or foster parents is also a benefit that not only allows the parent to create a key connection with their child in the earliest days, but it also improves employee recruitment and retention.
-Create a breastfeeding friendly space and allow flexible breaks to give pumping mothers privacy and the ability to reduce their child’s risk of infection down the line and increase parent-child bonding.
– Offer predictive scheduling so parents and caregivers can schedule child care in advance thereby reducing absenteeism at work.
– Offer parent involvement leave so caregivers can take a few hours off to attend a school performance or go on a field trip with their child. This can decrease stress in employees and improve productivity.
All these practices have long term beneficial effects for the parent or caregiver, the child, and the employer. A healthier child leads to a healthier employee and reduces absenteeism and turnover. The Work Institute evaluates the average cost of turnover for an employer to be 33% of that employees’ annual earnings- nearly $15,000 for an employee making $45,000 a year. Lowering turnover reduces company costs.
While family friendly supports for my family look a little different than they did four years ago; they have been invaluable these past few months. I have kept my staff and board entertained in more than a few Zoom meetings when my son yells for me to help him in the bathroom using very specific “potty talk” and we have all learned the Spanish names for the parts of a plant from Harper’s class. We have also been that family that has had someone walk past the camera with a not-so camera-ready look. Awkward work from home moments aside, children’s early experiences are building their foundation for the future and literally shaping their brain. Family Forward NC is a valuable resource for businesses and organizations with a wide array of sample policy language and data to support policy shifts. When caregivers can be more present in their child’s life and are a little less stressed, they are able to create more positive experiences with their child. Family Friendly policies not only benefit the employee and the employer, but they also help create a healthier workforce for tomorrow. Family friendly practices benefit all of us.
Jamie Wiener, Executive Director