I wouldn’t call Kate an all-star employee, necessarily. She rarely listens, and her communication skills leave something to be desired. She spends most of her time in the office “filing” scrap paper that will inevitably need to be thrown away and reorganizing post-it notes that were fine where they were. But her occasional presence here enables me to accomplish some very important work that might not have otherwise gotten done. Because Kate is our art director’s 18-month-old daughter.
The intersection of parenthood, motherhood particularly, and the workplace is not a space without landmines. Next time you’re at a party, ask who has it tougher — then, run. There’s plenty to complain about on both ends. Moms have a full plate of responsibilities both at home and in the office, and often outdated stigmas can lead to them being passed over for promotions or important projects. Those of us without children often feel expected to put in longer hours and cover for our coworkers with children, and to better justify our use of PTO and flex scheduling -— since what’s waiting for us beyond the office walls, anyway?
There’s truth to the tribulations (and assets) on both sides, but what is sorely needed is some frank discussion and collaboration between the two groups. So, with permission from Kelly (our art director), here is what I’ve learned as a non-mom managing a mom:
Life is Life: A healthy work/life balance is important for everyone, regardless of the specific people, activities or obligations being balanced. Non-parents may be needed to fill in for parents on the fly, as children are aces at the element of surprise. And parents, you may owe a colleague the freedom to take off early to catch a show or meet friends from out of town in exchange for the privilege of leaving at 2 p.m. last week to focus on a runny nose.
Be Flexible: Rescheduling a staff editorial meeting can potentially throw the entire week off for our team. Knowing this, Kelly instigated a conversation early on about how to handle instances where childcare falls through. For me, having her bring Kate into the office so we can continue moving forward is a no-brainer. We work in a creative environment and our most important meetings are with in-house staff. Does Kate talk out of turn? Sure, but that extra 15 minutes in the meeting is better than having to wait until the following day. Plus, her antics often lead to some of our most popular social media posts.
Have a Plan: That’s not to say that every boss should have an open-door policy on children. Obviously that won’t make sense in just any environment. The point is that if you have a set of expectations around last-minute emergencies, you’ll lose less time and foster less angst or uncertainty. As a leader, you can draw lines in the sand where you want, but it’s important to understand the hidden costs of arbitrary policies that leave little wiggle room.
While parents and non-parents should and can be better allies in the workplace, ensuring a healthy environment starts at the top. As a boss, make sure you are tuned in to who is putting in late hours and who is in before the sun rises. Everyone on staff should feel free to use time-off in a way that ensures they are better able to commit to their jobs while working. Avoid grilling single or childless workers to justify their PTO or use of flex-scheduling any more or less than you would a parent. And don’t discount the hours parents put in working remotely or at odd hours when children are in bed. When expectations are clear and people are held accountable, you can minimize cause for resentment.