How Smart Companies Keep Employees-Turned-Parents Productive

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Savvy employers help new parents navigate the challenges they bring to the workplace -- and everyone benefits.

Menaka Shroff is living proof that you can be both a rock star professional and a rock star parent.

The 38-year-old head of marketing at BetterWorks, a Palo Alto, California, software firm and mother to a 5-year-old boy said the secret to making the work-life balance a reality is to join a company that has managers and co-workers who embrace the flexibility needed to excel in both areas.

“That is the culture you see here,” she said. “A lot of us have kids, and we understand and embrace that part of our lives. That means I’m going to respect their time and they will respect mine. It’s a very transparent culture.”

A key component is the openness among colleagues. At BetterWorks, that involves a centralized calendar of obligations and frank discussions. The entire team is involved in the process of ensuring that quality remains high and deadlines are met without anyone sacrificing personal obligations. That approach is revolutionary when you consider this: A recent survey of more than 1,000 full-time workers found that 33 percent aren’t comfortable taking vacation or personal days, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Of course not everyone has the luxury of implementing or working in a place with such next-generation thinking for parents. To jumpstart similar thinking, Money Talks News asked those at such forward-thinking companies some of the ways they established that culture.

Explain expectations

Managers at her firm ensure that the soon-to-be parent has a plan in place that outlines how work goals will be met in his or her absence and how they will transition back into work, said Shroff. “We set goals and create a plan [for soon-to-be-mothers or fathers] so while they are out, they understand what will be done and what will be expected when they return. That literally is their plan, and it’s a key part of the process. Executing the development of the plan makes the parent understand they are still part of our team and it allows them to own the strategy. And we involve everyone in that process. It makes the individual members of the team closer too.”

Offer extra support

Sure, paid leave is fantastic but Shazi Visram, CEO of the HappyFamily organic food company, said it’s key for new parents to feel welcomed back to the company so they can thrive. “Business owners want to be competitive, but we need to be respectful of our employees’ private lives. … It’s really good business to support new parents.” Some ways HappyFamily does this is to provide places where new moms can pump, constantly update and make available a list of emergency child care options, and provide a nursery where kids can rest or play while mom and dad work. “If we have a conference call and someone is pumping, that is completely fine,” said Visram, who also has a 5-year-old son. “It’s not only acceptable but it’s efficient and gives the mom a sense of accomplishment and inclusion.”

Guard against stigma

Those that work at Birchbox, a New York-based online beauty products subscription service, knows that the company’s open and flexible leave policy is not just lip service. David Kaplowitz, the company’s chief of staff, took four weeks off when his daughter was born in November 2014 and used four more weeks of paid leave so he could alternate child care duties with his wife. That allowed him to spend needed time with his daughter and complete his work late at night or other times that worked well for him.

“Having that flexibility and not feeling a stigma about using it really benefits the company,” he said. “There are a lot of books and articles about what motivates people at work. At Birchbox we know our needs and goals outside of work are valued [by the founders]. They empower us to do our work when and how it makes the most sense. That has created an unbelievable loyalty we feel toward the company. … Knowing my employer cares so much about me makes me more committed to bringing value to them.”

Remember that business is business

Adrienne Penake, the mother of a 5-year-old and a toddler, was promoted to CEO of Speech Buddies, a San Francisco company that supports childhood speech and language development, shortly after returning from maternity leave. Although her company offers flexibility and support to all employees, she cautions that managers must understand that lines must occasionally be drawn. “I think it’s vital for company leaders to respect work-life balance,” she said. “I am very clear when I’m working and when I’m ‘dark’ and encourage everyone else to communicate that, too. … But occasionally a team member may take advantage of the company’s flexibility, and I have little tolerance for that. We have to foster a culture of mutual respect, and if that breaks down, that’s when you need to make hard calls.”

What is your experience with maternity/paternity leave and related policies? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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