For growing families, balancing work and a changing home life can pose some challenges. Whether a new child is joining the family through birth or adoption, families must go through an adjustment period as they settle into their new normal. For employees, the availability of comprehensive family leave policies at an organization can be a major selling point. In fact, family leave is a largely supported across the country, with the CATO institute reporting in 2018 that 74% of Americans support paid family leave up to 12 weeks. However, few employers in the U.S. offer such leave programs. As of March 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that only 23% of the civilian workforce has access to any paid family leave at all.
And while 12 weeks of paid family leave would be of significant impact for families, there are still many other ways that employers can help support employees balancing new family obligations.
Flexible work arrangements, including flexible schedules, compressed schedules, the option to telework and access to flexible leave can all be meaningful strategies for making a workplace more family friendly.
How can these flexible work arrangements benefit growing families?
Give families space to prepare for their new arrival
While family leave is an important strategy for aiding employees after a new baby is born or a child is adopted, in the U.S. it is customarily only provided after a child arrives. However, for families, time is needed before a child arrives to prepare. Flexible work arrangements can help to bridge the gap. For pregnant parents, flexible scheduling can allow them to get to prenatal appointments without compromising their work life, as they will likely need between 8 and 14 appointments before the baby arrives. Similarly, the option to have flexible hours or compressed weeks can give pregnant parents necessary time to rest as their bodies are going through a major, and often difficult, process. Further, for adopting families, flexible schedules can be critical as they go through the rigorous screening and home checking process before waiting for months or even years prior to getting a call. And when they do get a call, flexibility to telework or take leave in these cases can help families make the transition.
Keep pregnant people safer while expecting
As we enter the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical for employers to help protect their vulnerable and immunocompromised employees. For pregnant people, the option to telework can help to keep them safe. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) , people who are pregnant are at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19. It can cause pre-term labor, among other complications. So, by offering telework as an option, employers can help to ensure that their pregnant employees and their babies reduce their potential exposure to COVID-19.
Help Families with NICU Babies
For families with full-term pregnancies, 10-15% of babies will end up in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) after birth as a result of factors ranging from premature birth to infections to physical developmental issues. For these families, the home adjustment period may not start for weeks after the baby is born depending on how long they need NICU care. For these families, any leave can quickly be used up before a baby even leaves the hospital. Flexible work arrangements can help employees continue to be by their child’s side without compromising their job. For example, the option for employees to telework can give families the opportunity to sit with their child every day while at the hospital, allowing them to save leave days to spend with the child once they arrive home.
Give delivering parents time to heal
Another way that flexible work arrangements can be critical workplace wellness strategies is that they can give parents who deliver babies space to heal after birth. Pregnancy and giving birth puts a massive strain on a person’s body, and people need time and space to physically recover afterwards. On average, it can take 6 to 8 weeks just for a delivering parent to feel like themselves again after birth. This is where flexible work can help to bridge the experience and ease parents back into work if their leave doesn’t cover that entire recovery time. By offering flexible schedules and telework options, they can continue to heal their body while adjusting to their new schedule.
In addition to space to heal physically, space for emotional healing is important, as pregnancy loss is very common (happening in 10-15% of pregnancies). This can be an intensely painful and private experience for families, and, without workplace flexibility, can be retraumatizing to families who must immediately return to work as though nothing has changed. For families who experience loss, flexible work can be a beneficial way to give employees space to grieve and cope without requiring that they disclose the details of their need for space to their employer.
Make time for families to adjust to the new family member
With a new child, daily schedules can be completely upended. And as a child grows and develops, especially in the first year, daily schedules can vary dramatically for families. However, families will still need to work and earn income over this time, so flexible schedules can help give families time to balance their work and life. Flexible schedules can help families take breaks to rest or feed during the traditional workday and open the option to work later in the evening, earlier in the morning or even during the night so that they can meet the needs of their own family and their work responsibilities when it works best for them. Telework is key in this case, too!
Plus: In-office infrastructure and flexibility helps employees
In addition to flexibility to telework, in-office flexibility can help growing families adjust even when they are away from a new child. For lactating parents, office infrastructure that allows them to pump, such as lactation stalls like Leche Lounge (founded by Native American entrepreneur and lawyer, Stephanie Conduff), can help to ease the transition. Inclusive infrastructure combined with flexibility during the workday allows growing families to take care of their needs, since they don’t stop when they walk into the office!
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