Be a Workplace Pioneer

by Kaylie Astin

It’s too easy to assume that if your company doesn’t have many family-friendly work policies, that’s just the way things are. I say this because that’s what I did. When I was expecting my first child, I asked about maternity leave and I was told that such a thing didn’t exist. Many people do the same—they don’t ask about what’s available until circumstances change and they suddenly need those policies–until they’re expecting a child, or Mom has a stroke and needs extra care, or they go back to school and want to cut back their hours, or they’re sick and need a few weeks off.

Then they spend a few hours online researching family and employment law or perusing the employee handbook to find out what rights they have. And, if they’re like most employees, they haven’t got many. FMLA only applies to about half of American workers, and even then, family leave is unpaid. Very few companies offer paid parental leave or job sharing arrangements to their employees. Many offer some form of flexibility or telecommuting, but not always to everyone. And even if they say they offer these, sometimes employees don’t even know about these programs or are afraid to take advantage of them.

So many people, once confronted with the reality that their companies don’t have policies that will make family life compatible with work, give up and quit. I admit it–that’s what I did when my first child came along.

Not so fast!

You can be an agent of change. You don’t have to be an HR professional to do so, either. And the best part is if you succeed in changing things for your organization, you could make them better for other people, too!

Take charge. Some suggestions:

  • Offer to become a flexibility liaison.
  • Form a committee to find out what changes other employees would like to see.
  • Convince your organization that family-friendly policies are in their best interests (here’s a brochure to get you started).
  • Use your employee suggestion box.
  • Start a child care cooperative at work.
  • Find out how to make child/elder care referral programs available for your organization.
  • Make a proposal to job share.
  • Be the first in your company to Skype meetings.
  • Try working from home on a trial basis.
  • Ask your company to give you partial pay while you take a parental leave.
  • Submit a proposal to work the hours that would work best for you.

LDS Church leaders have encouraged church members to become involved in this fight. Elder Quentin L. Cook said, “I would hope that Latter-day Saints would be at the forefront in creating an environment in the workplace that is more receptive and accommodating to both women and men in their responsibilities as parents.” Or, to use a quote from the business world, Anne M. Mulcahy (retired Xerox CEO) said, “We’re living in a different world now in terms of employee needs, and companies have to offer alternative methods for getting the work done. Even under the most difficult circumstances you can have creative flexibility.”

I think Elder Cook is spot on when he says that flexibility at work benefits both men and women. And I’m glad that some business leaders recognize the value of flexibility, not just as a nice thing to do, but as a smart business strategy.

We need more voices like theirs from religious and business leaders. Unfortunately, most battles that have been fought over employee rights and family issues have been championed by women’s groups, labor groups, and left-leaning politicians. That needs to change. This is not exclusively a women’s issue, a mother’s issue, or a liberal issue.

If your company currently doesn’t have family-friendly policies, you can be a pioneer! It may require some creativity, but I believe that in order to remain competitive, companies will need to be flexible in order to retain talent so that they can continue to be productive and innovative.

This is why I think there can be a workplace revolution. Families need to work, and people need to spend time with their families. It doesn’t matter if you’re liberal or conservative, religious or not, male or female, single or married, childless or surrounded by stinky diapers. Most people will need flexibility at some point in their lives, and if you share your vision, other people just might catch it.

Don’t let anyone co-opt family and work issues to claim them as their own. Don’t give up too easily. Don’t wait for the law or for your workplaces to catch up to your needs. Even if you’re the first in your organization to request changes, you can make a difference whether you run the company or you’re a regular employee.

Take action now! Even if your ideas for flexibility are new to your workplace and you feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle, you can be a pioneer.

One Comment on “Be a Workplace Pioneer

  1. Thank you for posting this. This is something that has been on my mind lately, it’s an important issue and especially one that I think Mormon men and women need to champion, as Elder Cook said.

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