It's summertime. That means vacation, fun and freedom for the kids. They need to be driven to activities, entertained and simply cared for. When all is going well and these activities run smoothly, the situation presents no problem for the working parent or you, the employer.
But what happens when the caregiver arrives late or calls in sick? Or when an activity is cancelled? Or when the child frequently calls the working parent at the office to complain or in need of something? What is the parent supposed to do? And even more importantly, what are you, the boss, to do?
Many people say that the business of business is business; simply stated, the work needs to be accomplished. While laudable, this goal can present a challenge, especially for the worker in question who may be a good, productive employee. That person may have a positive reputation and may want to continue doing a superior job, but childrearing demands are placing considerable pressure on that ambition.
Another problem is when an employee is on the phone listening to children's complaints and trying to organize and re-organize their activities and caregivers. Clearly, the employee isn't focused on being productive. The job simply isn't getting done. Or the quality of work isn't what it could be. Also, fellow employees who are working hard may resent the time these parents take off from focusing on the work.
Here are some ways that you and the parents can find a balance:
Encourage parents to plan ahead. To minimize distractions, the parent can hire a nanny, a babysitter, or a neighbor to drop off and pick up the kids. He or she also can find other parents with children in similar activities to form a carpool. If your employee can't easily take time away from work to drive in the carpool, perhaps he or she can pay another parent to assume that responsibility. If the parent doesn't know other people with children, often the organization sponsoring the activities can provide the names of local families who might be willing to form a carpool.
Learn about the parents' circumstances. Allow the employee to explain the circumstances and details regarding the summertime issues that might arise. Once you have been alerted to the potential for distractions, if and when those situations occur, you can be more understanding.
Discuss flexible work hours. In many organizations, employees have the option of coming in "late" and leaving "late," or coming in early and leaving early. Or if the employee needs to leave early, he or she can arrange to take work home. Make-up work also could be finished on the weekends. If an employee needs to leave early, make sure you've clearly stated what needs to be accomplished by the next morning and how the tasks can be accomplished.
Suggest taking personal time. If your company doesn't allow for flexible scheduling, then the employee needs to consider taking some vacation time or personal time to take care of the child's needs. If your company's schedule and culture don't allow for flexibility, you'll have to agree to "dock" a certain amount of time and pay to cover the conflicting schedule demands. However, this should clearly be used as a last resort. A person's take-home pay is often sacred. Tampering with that can easily lead to a decrease in morale and productivity.
Keep an open mind. Consider making an exception for employees with significant demands outside the work environment. Allow for some flexibility in the work schedule. Explain that this isn't to allow people to simply sleep late in the morning, but for dealing with urgent needs. Chances are that employees will outperform their previous productivity levels because they're so grateful that you understand their difficult situation.
Dr. David G. Javitch is an organizational psychologist, leadership specialist, and President of Javitch Associates in Newton, Mass. Author of How to Achieve Power in Your Life, Javitch is in demand as a consultant for his skills in assessment, coaching, training and facilitating groups and retreats.