How Family-Friendly Is That Employer Really?


Understand how well a company can meet your parenting needs before you sign on.

By Elizabeth Wilcox

 

Looking for an employer that understands your needs as mother? That truly is family-friendly? Don't put your faith in a compiled list of the country's most family-friendly companies. Go further than that. Assess the company as thoroughly as they assess you. And as you do so, consider these points:

Know Your Needs
Family-friendly is a relative term. What is family-friendly to one employee may not be to the next. Ask yourself if you need childcare, flexible scheduling, benefits, or the ability to work from home.

Depending on the your needs, your ideal work arrangement or benefits will vary. Figure out what you need most.

Know the Company's Position
Ask the human resources representative about the company's position on work-life policies. Read any written material outlining the policies and ask what -- if any -- challenges the company has faced implementing those policies. Also ask about the frequency with which the policies are pursued.

In some companies, employees fail to pursue non-traditional work arrangements--such as telecommuting or part-time--for fear of being taken off the promotion track or undermining job security. Some benefits may have restrictions, such as limited space in the on-site childcare facility.

If you feel that by asking these questions, the employer doubts your commitment, consider that a family-friendly indicator in itself.

Understand the Structure of the Organization
An employer may be family-friendly at the top, but that is no guarantee the company is family-friendly throughout. Companies--particularly large ones with many divisions in different regions--can have sub-cultures with their own divisions that support the company's policies to varying extents.

The divisions may be autonomous but not family-friendly. Or they may require multiple signatures for approval of any family-friendly arrangement.

Ask to see the organization and departmental chart. Know who will make the decisions that will directly affect the way you are able to work. An uncooperative manager may have the power to derail a family-friendly request. Know who your manager will be.

Don't assume small is better than large. Small organizations may have less formalized structures and hence more flexibility when it comes to permitting arrangements such as flexible hours, but that's not guaranteed. A small employer may be less able to pay for costly benefits like child-care assistance. Understand what is best for you.

Get to Know Where You Will Work
Get a handle on how the office works. Move beyond the hiring manager and company policy papers to get a feel for the atmosphere of the company itself and the division where you will work. Are people friendly in the halls and off camera as well, like in the restrooms or stairways?

Talk to working mothers and more specifically to those within your division. Find out how how much support they feel they get from their boss. See, too, if you can spend some time at the office before you sign on. Remember that coworkers and supervisors will be your first line of support in your attempt to juggle work and parenting.

Finally, be sure you approach your family-friendly job from a value-added perspective. Don't simply think how family-friendly benefits or work arrangements may help you. Given these, think about how you can help your employer.

Know how to articulate and demonstrate that you believe the reward is far greater than the cost. Compromises will be made by you and by your employer. Make sure they're worthwhile to both of you.

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Elizabeth Wilcox, former editorial director at FamilyTime and mother to three children, is the author of a book about family-friendly work.