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Section 11. Promoting Family-Friendly Policies in Business and Government

Learn how to promote family-friendly policies in businesses and government.


  • What are family-friendly policies?

  • Why should you promote family-friendly policies in the workplace and government?

  • Who should promote family-friendly policies?

  • When should you promote family-friendly policies in the workplace and government?

  • How do you promote family-friendly policies in the workplace and government?

Luz was finding her life extremely difficult. Her job as a housekeeper at the hospital was hard, and that and caring for her four children always had her falling into bed exhausted at the end of the evening, only to get up at five to do it again. Even so, she always managed to get her kids to school and babysitters and herself to work on time. She did her job well and with good humor, and her boss told her he was going to recommend her for a promotion to team leader.

Now, however, she was faced with a complication. Her three-year-old had just been diagnosed with asthma, and her cousin, who took care of him, was afraid to continue. "What if he stops breathing? I don't know what to do. I don't have a car to take him to the emergency room, I have no one to call. You're right at the hospital, but you're halfway across town, and you don't have a car, either. I don't want that kind of responsibility."

Luz didn't know what to do. Her cousin had been babysitting for free, out of love and family obligation. Luz had no idea where she would get the money for child care - as it was, every penny she had went into food, rent, utilities, and clothing and other expenses for the children. She couldn't leave her son with just anyone, especially now that she knew he was asthmatic. And she couldn't take him to work with her.

In desperation, Luz persuaded her cousin to continue babysitting for a few more days, and decided to talk to her boss, the housekeeping supervisor. When she explained the situation, he looked serious. Luz was in tears now. "I may have to quit my job, but if I do, how will I feed my children? I don't know what to do."

"You're not the first person who's come to me with this kind of problem," the supervisor said. "I'll talk to the hospital director, but I don't know what she'll say." A few minutes later, the supervisor was back, smiling. "The director's been hearing about child care problems, too, from a lot of people - housekeepers, technicians, nurses, even some doctors. She went to the Board last month, and they've decided to start a day care center at the hospital for employees' children - it's already in the works. They were going to announce it next week.

"In the meantime, she suggested that we promote you immediately. That will mean a big increase in salary, and should be enough so that you can get child care until the hospital day care center opens."

In Luz's fictional case, the problem was solved, and she was able to continue working. For a lot of real people, however, situations like this are not easily resolved. The chances are that, at many hospitals or other places of business, Luz would have either had to quit, and perhaps end up on welfare, or to somehow find enough money to pay for child care. The fact that her employer had decided to institute a family-friendly solution to a problem common to many employees made all the difference.

Family-friendly workplaces and a family-friendly society are goals for a healthy community. In this section, we'll discuss what family-friendly can mean, look at why it's a benefit for everyone involved, and explore how it can be promoted as policy in business and government.

What are family-friendly policies?

There are really two definitions to the term "family-friendly" in this section. One has to do with the operation of the workplace, the other with government policies that affect that operation:

A family-friendly workplace or employer is one whose policies make it possible for employees to more easily balance family and work, and to fulfill both their family and work obligations. While this definition often applies to government, a major employer, as well, government has another function in promoting family-friendly policies.

Many of the family-friendly policies of government are those laws, regulations, and social policies that recognize the importance of families to society, and act to meet, directly or indirectly, the needs of children, parents, disabled family members, and the oldest generation.

We'll consider each of these definitions in turn.

Family-friendly workplace policies.

Family-friendly workplace policies can take many forms. The on-site day care that we talked about in the introductory example is perhaps the one that many people think of first, because it's so clearly family-friendly. What could be more directly aimed at the needs of working parents and their children than day care that is convenient and secure, allows parents to be there instantly if something is wrong, and provides a high quality experience for the child? If, as is often the case, in-house day care is free to the employee, that's frosting on the cake.

In-house day care, especially free in-house day care, is hardly the most common of family-friendly policies, however. It's almost entirely restricted to large companies or institutions (or places where day care teachers are trained), because it's expensive, and requires permits and licensed facilities and staff. There are, however, a large number of other policies, many of which can be adopted even by small, mom-and-pop businesses, that help employees to balance work and family. Some are directly aimed toward family-friendly outcomes, while others may be only incidentally family-friendly. In either case, they make a workplace a better place to work. Some possible family-friendly workplace policies:

  • Flex-time. For employees with family obligations, control of their time may be the most valuable benefit an employer can give. Flex-time - a flexible work schedule - allows people to choose when they work, as long as they put in their hours every week. Depending upon the employer, that may mean complete freedom to design their own work schedule, or being able to choose from among several set options (a four-day, rather than a five-day week, for instance, or days off mid-week instead of on the weekend, or starting and ending the workday several hours earlier or later than normal.
  • Job sharing. Two (or more, but that's very unusual) employees may share a single position, by each working a fraction of the necessary time. In that way, people can hold, or continue to hold, the position they want, and still have time to spend with children or aging parents, or take care of other family responsibilities.
  • Temporary or permanent switch to part-time. A full-time employee might be allowed to change to a part-time position - either as part of a job share, or simply as a reduction in working hours - and still continue in the same position. A new mother, for instance, may want to switch to part-time for the first year of her baby's life, in order to bond and spend time with the child, and adjust to the demands of parenthood.
  • Allowing work away from the worksite. An employee may work from home or some other remote site some or all of the time. He may communicate and discuss work issues with colleagues and supervisors by spending particular days or a set amount of time at the worksite every week, or he may "telecommute" by using telephone and e-mail. Telecommuting allows people to work at locations anywhere in the world, regardless of the location of the actual workplace.

Telecommuting is generally possible only where the employee's work can be done independently, and where the work (computer programming, for instance, or writing) can be translated to computer or print. (The exception to this is the type of job often advertised in the classifieds - "Work at home! Simple assembly. Earn up to $20 an hour!" - which usually involves tedious piecework or bulk mail, and requires speed and long hours in order to earn more than minimum wage.) The employee also has to be trusted to work efficiently and independently.

  • Maternity/paternity leave. Part of an employee benefit package may be paid or unpaid leave for the birth, adoption, or acceptance of the foster placement of a child. A combination of paid and unpaid leave is also a possibility.

The U.S. federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) guarantees 12 weeks of unpaid leave in this situation, as well as for personal or family medical reasons, but only for employees in companies with a payroll of 50 or more. The guarantee is that, if you take such a leave, your job - and your seniority - will be waiting for you when you return.

  • Parental leave. This is a short-term option that allows a parent to take an afternoon or a day off to pick up a sick child at school or tend to one at home, attend a school performance or athletic event, or otherwise minister to a child's needs.
  • Family medical leave. An employee would use this kind of leave to take care of an aging parent or a family member with a long-term illness, or to tend to her own chronic or temporary medical problems - anything from cancer treatments to arthroscopic surgery to mental health. Once again, it might be paid or unpaid, or some combination, and is usually limited to a certain number of weeks or months. Such a leave, in most cases, is also covered by FMLA.
  • Flexible emergency leave. This offers a certain number of days a year to attend to medical or other emergencies, usually with pay.
  • Employee and family health benefits. These may include not only generous health and dental insurance, but on-site wellness centers, on-site fitness centers or subsidies for joining a gym, and even health-and-fitness-oriented programs for employees' children or spouses.
  • Child care. On-site day care isn't the only option here. An employer might subsidize employees' child care, paying all or some part of approved arrangements. Other possibilities are to provide referrals to reliable child care, or reserve slots at particular facilities for employees' children.
  • Elder care. Although very few employers, if any, actually provide elder day care or home care, many provide resources and referrals - and even subsidies - for such care.
  • Family-oriented events. Many employers arrange company picnics, Christmas parties, and other events to include employees' families.
  • Family-oriented environment. Some employers, particularly smaller ones, make it possible for people to bring their children to the workplace from time to time when necessary. These employers may set up a playroom, with toys and children's videos to keep children busy at those times.
  • Tuition for employee education.
  • College scholarships or loans for employees' children. An employer may award one or more scholarships a year, on a merit or need basis, to the children of employees, or may actually pay or lend some amount of tuition for each employee's child who attends college.
  • Including family issues as part of an employee assistance program. An employer may offer seminars and workshops on parenting, keeping kids off drugs, education, and other family-oriented topics.

Family-friendly government policies.

There are really two ways that government can be family-friendly. The first is to institute family-friendly policies, like those described above for other workplaces, for its own employees. U.S. federal employees, for instance, are not included in FMLA, but the federal government provides them with a similar benefit.

The other way that government at any level can be family-friendly is to encourage - by laws or other methods - family-friendly policies in business and public life in general. Some of the ways it might accomplish this purpose include:

  • Mandating that businesses institute family-friendly policies. The FMLA is one example. A local Board of Health banning smoking in places normally frequented by children and pregnant women, in order to avoid exposing them to second-hand smoke, is another.
  • Mandating a health insurance plan for all families. As has been discussed for years, there are many ways to do this, including a single-payer plan (where the government or some other entity acts as the insurer for everyone), or a plan where all employers must provide health insurance as a benefit to employees.
  • Using tax breaks and subsidies to encourage businesses and other entities to adopt family-friendly policies. A business might get a major tax break for maintaining an on-site child care center, for instance, or might get a subsidy for itself subsidizing employees' child care costs.
  • Providing public funding for family-friendly interventions and services. Granting subsidies and funding for public education are obvious ways to achieve this, but funding such services as Parents Anonymous (support groups for formerly abusive parents), family literacy programs, WIC (the Women, Infants, and Children family nutrition program), and long-term elder care are equally valuable.
  • Funding and maintaining family-oriented public facilities. In addition to medical facilities and the like, government - especially local government - may build or run skating rinks, swimming pools, community centers, public parks, and other facilities where families can gather for community activities.
  • Encouraging family-and youth-friendly policy among public agencies and services. Rather than allowing - or ordering - police to arrest or disperse skateboarders, for instance, a local government could set aside areas where skateboarders could practice without being disturbed or disturbing anyone else. A local government entity could arrange for lifeguards or other safety features at a popular family bathing spot, rather than merely prohibiting swimming. It could put railings along the walkways in a local park, to make it easier for elders to use them. The real issue here is that officials should be thinking of ways to make a community more family- and youth-friendly, and to make everyone in the community feel valued, instead of setting up adversary situations (kids/cops, elders/joggers, etc.) by the policies it adopts.
  • Using its influence to encourage family-friendly policies. Government-sponsored studies or commissions that point out the advantages of a family-friendly stance by businesses and other entities can have some effect on how those entities function. Individual advocacy by influential politicians can have even more effect.

The government of the United Kingdom, for instance, funds studies supporting family-friendly workplace policies, helps businesses and organizations construct such policies, and engages in other activities supportive of family-friendliness. Although it doesn't mandate family-friendly policies and practices, it makes its position clear, employs family-friendly policies in its own branches, and encourages employers to do the same.

Why promote family-friendly policies?

Family-friendly policies are, in general, part of a win-win situation: everyone involved benefits from them. They're good for children, parents, and elders; they are in the best interest of employers; and, in the long run, they benefit communities and the society in general. Some of the specific reasons why family-friendly policies are worth striving for:

They allow parents to spend more and better time with their children.

Having more time with their children helps parents bond with babies, strengthens family bonds in general, and aids children's learning. It leads to better parenting, because it allows parents to interact with their children without the burden of guilt (over not spending enough time with them) or the stress of time pressure (I really should be working on that report; I have to leave for a meeting).

An argument can be made that, by reducing stress around the issue of parenting, family-friendly policies make it possible for parents to see their children as a pleasure as well as a responsibility, This reduces the potential for child abuse and increases the potential for close relationships (among spouses as well as among parents and children) and positive results for children as they grow.

There are other child-friendly results to some specific family-friendly policies. On-site day care, for instance, takes the guesswork out of child care placements, because the parent can see what she's getting. If the situation is a good one, then quality day care is assured.

Flexible parental leave time allows parents to participate in their children's lives. They can be at the soccer games and theater performances that are so important, particularly to younger children. All of this contributes to peace of mind for everyone, and means when parents are at work, they can concentrate on work without being distracted by the demands of family.

Family-friendly policies reduce stress not only for parents, but for anyone caring for a family member, or coping with a difficult personal medical problem.

Studies show that a certain amount of controlled stress can be productive, but too much can be a killer. Whether an employee's family responsibilities involve children, an ill spouse, a frail elder, or his own health, policies that make it easier to balance work and family will make his life more manageable. Keeping stress at a reasonable level helps maintain health and contributes to healing, and increases the amount of energy the employee can give to both work and family obligations.

They allow more choices, making it possible for employees to exercise more control over their lives.

Several studies have shown that it's control, even more than stress, that influences employees' health and their feelings about their jobs. A high-stress job is not necessarily a problem as long as the employee also has a good deal of control over what she does. Those with high stress and very little control in their jobs, however, are most at risk for stress-related illnesses, and for leaving their jobs.

Employees taking advantage of family-friendly policies are more productive.

Studies in both the U.S. and U.K. seem to show that family-friendly policies in the workplace lead to higher productivity. A 1996 article in Business Week magazine cites a number of companies where a switch to a family-friendly workplace resulted in increased productivity and profits. Knowing that family obligations are taken care of, and knowing that their work time is more limited, make it possible for employees to concentrate more fully on their work.

By creating a better work-family balance, family-friendly policies allow employees in two-income or single parent families to improve their economic status and quality of life.

The more families are able to flourish economically, the better it is for society, as well as for the families themselves.

Family-friendly policies help employers keep valuable employees.

The Business Week article cited above, as well as a number of studies demonstrate a relationship between family-friendly policies and employee retention. By keeping people for long periods, employers reduce training costs and avoid losing the knowledge and experience that walk out the door with any veteran employee.

Family-friendly employers have more to offer new job candidates, and are thus able to recruit and hire the best.

In many cases, family-friendly policies are so important to job seekers that they're willing to take less money in return for the flexibility or other benefits they offer.

Family-friendly policies generate employee loyalty.

Those who have taken advantage of a leave policy to tend to a dying parent or a chronically ill spouse, for instance, often feel they owe their employers something for being responsive to their situations.

Family-friendly policies are good for the society.

They confer a number of advantages for the community and the society at large:

  • They are better for family stability and for children, thus improving the outlook for the next generation.
  • They allow more people to work, and thus to contribute to the society. Many of these contributions, some of them crucially important, might be lost if not for the opportunity to balance work and family.
  • Family friendly policies are fairer to employees, reflecting better than many other workplace practices the values of an egalitarian and democratic society.

In many cases, existing family-friendly policies still aren't fair enough. Often, such options as flex time and job sharing are offered only to managerial-level or white-collar workers, leaving those in lower-paying and less satisfying jobs with fewer resources, when they are often the ones who most need them. As family-friendly policies become more common, more attention has to be paid to this issue.

Who should promote family-friendly policies?

Who is in the best position to champion family-friendly policies with employers, government, and the public? The answers are probably somewhat different for each audience, but there are groups or individuals who may be more effective than others.

Business people. Members of the business community have a number of advantages in promoting family-friendly policies.

  • They know others in the business community personally.
  • They have a high degree of credibility in that community, because they have to cope with the same issues as other business people - customer service, employee competence and turnover, profit-and-loss concerns, taxes and other government regulations, etc.
  • They speak the same language as those they're trying to convince.
  • Perhaps most important, those who are promoting family-friendly policies most probably have implemented them, and can testify to their benefits, particularly benefits to the bottom line. This type of testimony is what's most likely to convince other business people.

Politicians and other policy makers. These folks also have some built-in advantages, in some ways similar to those of business people.

  • They know others in politics and policy-making personally - and often a large number of business people, civic leaders, and other influential people as well.
  • They often - although by no means always - have a degree of credibility with other policy makers and the public.
  • If they believe strongly enough in the issue, they may be able to call in some favors to make things happen.
  • They understand how to negotiate the system to change policy.

People affected by family-friendly policies, or those affiliated with them. These may include:

  • Labor unions.
  • Grass roots community groups, or groups of employees from a particular company or facility.
  • Professional associations.
  • Community-based organizations or other health and human service agencies.
  • Individuals who, like Luz at the beginning of the section, have had experience with family-friendly policies...or the lack of them. Personal testimony can be a very powerful persuader.

Key individuals in the community. Every community has a few people - or sometimes more than a few - who have a lot of influence with others. They may be some of the other people referred to here, or may be leaders in other ways - clergy, citizen activists, respected former officials or longtime pillars of the community, or simply ordinary community members whose integrity and intelligence and fairness have made them opinion leaders. More often than not, if you can get a few of these folks on your side, things will happen.

The media. It's always important to have the media on your side, but it's even better if they decide to take up the cause. If you can convince a newspaper or TV station to sponsor the idea of family-friendly policies, you can at least be certain that people will hear about it and its advantages.

A broad-based coalition. As with all policy change, a coalition that includes as many of the above groups and individuals as possible is probably the ideal promoter. If everyone's represented, there's high credibility, and the ideas are likely to penetrate all segments of the community. There's also a much better chance that what the group proposes will be accepted as their own by a majority of the community.

When should you promote family-friendly policies?

The simple answer to this question is "When they're needed," which is whenever they're not readily available to all workers and citizens. There are some times, however, when your efforts might be particularly fruitful.

  • When employees and/or family members themselves raise the issue. This could range from staff members in your organization raising questions about their work situations, to people coming to your organization for help in changing their workplace or workplace policy in general.
  • When you can demonstrate that families are having a tough time. When there's an economic downturn, for instance, many workers may lose their jobs, and many others may find themselves struggling. That's a good time to call attention to ways that employers and government can help families while helping themselves as well.
  • When family issues are in the news and the public eye. If a book about "the crisis in the American family" is gaining publicity, if a TV network airs a special report on the family, or if a national news magazine publishes a cover story on the topic ("The Death of the Nuclear Family?" was the actual title of a Newsweek cover story several years ago), it may be a time to strike while the iron is hot. When people are thinking about families, they're apt to be willing to look at ways to benefit and strengthen them. Among the many family-oriented issues that often reach the front pages and the TV screen are youth and domestic violence, the divorce rate, the difficulties of caring for aging parents, and parent participation in schools and their children's education.
  • When family issues are highlighted in a political campaign. Candidates often try to outdo one another in appearing "pro-family," especially when the campaign involves such controversial family-related issues as gay marriage or abortion. Such a campaign presents a golden opportunity to say, "You're pro-family? Put your money where your mouth is, and come out for family-friendly policies that make it easier for families to survive and to spend more time together."
  • During labor negotiations. Family-friendly workplace policies can be made a negotiating point in contract negotiations. This might be a particularly good chance to address the fairness of those policies, and the issue of making them accessible to all employees, not just those in the front office.
  • During an economic development campaign. A community that's trying to attract new businesses, or to help local business grow and improve, can increase its opportunities by adopting, and convincing local employers to adopt, family-friendly policies. New businesses are much more willing to locate in a community where there are options for employees with family responsibilities - good schools, quality elder and long-term care, recreational opportunities, family-friendly facilities. Existing local businesses are better able to attract the best employees available if they have something special to offer...such as a family-friendly workplace. You can make a good argument that the adoption of family-friendly policies is a basic strategy for any economic development effort.

How do you promote family-friendly policies in the workplace and government?

In many cases, for either employers or government, the adoption of family-friendly policies is more than a simple decision to do things one way as opposed to another. It involves a change in perception about the nature of a workplace or community, and about what's important for businesses, other employers, and society. For that reason, promoting family-friendly policies may take time and careful thought. The following series of steps takes that into account.

Decide where to start.

Your success may depend on the issue you choose to address first, and the setting and scale in which you address it (a single workplace? a whole industry? the community?). You're not going to change a workplace or a community overnight, and you're not going to persuade either one to change everything at once. What's a good first step toward a totally family-friendly environment?

One possibility is to poll workers and/or community members to see what's most important to them. You might find different preferences for different folks: white collar workers might value flex-time, while blue collar workers might want child care. You should aim for fairness in what you propose: what's the greatest benefit for everyone?

Based on your research, you should try to come up with a clear, well-defined goal. What do you want to have happen where, and by when? The ideal is to start with something that will have a real impact, but that isn't so ambitious that it's impossible - or impossibly expensive - to achieve. If child care seems to be the major need, for instance, you may want to start with a small employer subsidy for child care costs, or an arrangement whereby people could bring their kids to work when circumstances dictate. Starting out by demanding free child care for all may doom your effort at the start.

This isn't to say that you can't raise the idea, and give examples of other employers or communities that have provided child care (see below). In general, though, the way to profound and lasting social change - and that's what we're talking about here - is one reachable goal at a time. Trying to cross the bridge in one leap can actually slow you down over the long term.

Do your homework.

Especially if there is to be a public debate about the issue of family-friendly policies, you need to have not only ideas, but facts at the tip of your tongue. Some of the areas you should research:

  • Particular needs in your community.
  • Policies that have been implemented elsewhere, and their results.
  • Employers or communities where family-friendly policies have been adopted.
  • Potential benefits for everyone involved.
  • Potential costs, and ways to defray them.
  • Potential objections you might face, and how to counter them.
  • Alternatives to what you're initially proposing.

Your research might include searching libraries and the Internet, talking to people who've had direct experience with the issue - local officials, human resource directors, union activists, employees, etc. - conferring with researchers or other experts, and talking with health and human service organizations who've established their own family-friendly policies, and/or who've worked with businesses or communities as partners in implementing family-friendly policies. Gathering examples of family-friendly policies that have worked elsewhere can help you in several ways. As examples, they'll establish that such policies exist; they'll answer arguments that such policies cost too much or don't work; and they'll give you ideas for creating your own family-friendly policies or programs.

Your effort is far more likely to be successful if you know what you're talking about, and have answers to the objections of opponents or skeptics. The more ideas and information you have, the more people will take your arguments seriously.

Offer to help find solutions that work.

As explained above, part of your research should be aimed at generating some alternative family-friendly scenarios. These can be used as starting points in a discussion of what kinds of family-friendly practices or policies might work in your community or workplace. Alternatively, you can offer to participate in a coalition or on a committee set up to look at possible family-friendly innovations. Some ways to make family-friendly policies work:

  • In-house day care may sound impossible, but it doesn't have to be wholly funded by the employer. Employees could pay, either a set fee or on a scale keyed to salary, to help offset the costs of the service.
  • Employees who work from home could pay their own Internet service provider and phone charges, rather than those costs being borne by the employer. The employee could write off the expense on her taxes, and save commuting costs (gas or public transportation costs, wear and tear on a vehicle, time) as well. The employer could get the work done for the same cost as if the employee worked on-site. Both would thus benefit.
  • Employees might have money withheld from paychecks to contribute toward pay during leaves. (If no leaves are taken, the employee could eventually get the money back.) Conversely, an employer might agree to pay reduced salary over several weeks so that an employee could continue to receive at least a small regular paycheck during an unpaid leave.

Another mechanism is suggested by a 2002 California law that requires employers to grant up to 14 weeks of paid maternity or paternity leave. The cost of the leave is to be defrayed, at least in part, by taxes paid by employees.

  • Government-supported family-friendly facilities can charge an admission fee to help cover costs, or might be supported by higher taxes.
  • A "Family-Friendly" designation might be granted by local government, the Chamber of Commerce, or some other body to employers that have implemented family-friendly policies.
  • Government might fund or subsidize (with sliding-scale payment by employees making up most or all of the rest of the cost) workplace seminars on family-related topics, or on-site marriage and family therapy, just as it subsidizes workplace education.

Point to and reward those workplaces and government agencies who support and engage in family-friendly practices.

A "community hero" or "best business" award, with lots of publicity, could both raise the profile of the issue and identify it as something that others might aspire to.

Frame the debate as a win-win situation.

Try to avoid assuming an adversary position here. Emphasize the fact that family-friendly policies are good for everyone involved - employees, employers, government, the society as a whole. No one loses, and everyone benefits. Use the available research - and there's plenty; see the Internet Resources part of this section for several examples - to make the case that family-friendly policies go along with improvements in employee recruitment and retention, loyalty, productivity, and morale, and that they also positively affect child development, employee stress levels and health, and the quality of life in a community.
It's hard to argue against a change that confers universal benefits.

Marshal support.

Put together a coalition, if you can, or work for the support of a large number of influential people. It would be great if your support could come from all segments of the community, but some particularly important groups and individuals include:

  • Unions and other trade associations.
  • Working families.
  • Businesses and business associations.
  • Policy makers.
  • Influential individuals, particularly in business, the non-profit world, and government.

Communicate, communicate, communicate.

Get your message out to policy makers in business, the non-profit sector, and government, to workers, and to the public. The best arguments in the world are worthless if no one hears them. Use all the channels available to you, particularly:

  • The media.
  • Labor unions.
  • Chambers of Commerce and other business associations.
  • Professional associations.
  • Direct contact with policy makers.
  • Direct contact with the appropriate people in workplaces. These might be CEO's, Human Service Directors, directors of non-profits, owners of small businesses, or influential employees.

An element to consider here is that a good part of an effort to promote family-friendly policies is changing the perceptions of employers, government officials, and/or the public about what's normal. Only fairly recently has the idea of "family-friendly" become an issue in either the workplace or the public domain. One aim of your publicity might be to place it firmly in the mainstream, something that should be an obvious concern for everyone.

That kind of placement could lead to a whole new way of thinking. What if state and national political conventions - or town boards, for that matter - provided child care so that single parents could attend? What if employers and schools coordinated around no-school days, so that working parents wouldn't have to scramble to figure out what to do with their kids when it snowed? What if the community provided day care or home health care for disabled family members and frail elders as a matter of course? The world could look different, and better. Perhaps your effort can contribute to that end.

Advocate for family-friendly policies in whatever ways are appropriate to the situation.

You'll have to decide what "appropriate" means for you here. The more confrontational you choose to be, the harder it is to restore good will afterwards. You'd probably only use direct action, for instance, in a situation that's patently unfair and not likely to improve in any other way. Your goal, after all, is one that's typified by policy makers in business and government being genuinely concerned about people, and feeling, at the same time, that any family-friendly changes they make will benefit them as well - hardly an adversary situation.

Some possible ways you might advocate for family-friendly policies:

  • Union negotiations.
  • Persuading business, professional, or trade associations (the Chamber of Commerce, for example) to issue policy statements supporting family-friendly practices and policies.
  • Employing as spokespersons employers who have implemented family-friendly programs that have benefited both them and employees.
  • Legislative advocacy. This might entail personal contact with legislators and aides, a full-scale legislative campaign, or both. The goal could be a law - such as FMLA - that mandates family-friendly policy, or simply government support and backing for family-friendly policies.
  • A media campaign.
  • Direct action. Again, this would probably be a last resort, and could range, in increasing order of seriousness, from filing a grievance or complaint, to holding a public demonstration, to calling a strike or boycott, to a lawsuit.

Urge the continued evaluation and adaptation of family-friendly policies to make sure they're working for employers, employees, government, and the society.

The whole concept of family-friendly policies and programs is still relatively new. By carefully evaluating new and ongoing policies and programs, and changing them to respond better to the needs they're meant to meet, employers and government can help them evolve for the better.

Continue promoting family-friendly policies in the workplace and government indefinitely.

As with any policy issue, if you don't keep at it, your gains will disappear because everyone will assume that "that's been taken care of." The goal here, if family-friendly policies are to have the maximum effect, is really a family-friendly society. If that's ever to be achieved, you'll have to continue to promote and support those policies over the long term.

In Summary

A family-friendly workplace or employer (and government as an employer may be included here) is one whose policies make it possible for employees to more easily balance family and work, and to fulfill both their family and work obligations. In addition to its employer role, government may encourage a family-friendly society by adopting laws, regulations, and social policies that recognize the importance of families to society, and act to meet, directly or indirectly, the needs of children, parents, and the oldest generation.

Thus, an employer might offer flexible work schedules and locations, child care, support for elder care, family leave options, and other family-friendly benefits to employees. A government entity, in addition to offering similar options to its employees might also - as the U.S. Congress and many other federal governments have done - pass laws requiring the granting of maternity/paternity leave, fund family-friendly health and social programs, construct family-friendly facilities, and support family-friendly policies in general.

Family-friendly policies benefit employers, families, and society. Research shows that employers gain in employee recruitment, retention, loyalty, and productivity, all of which contribute to the bottom line. Families gain in the ability to balance work and family obligations, reduced stress, and better quality of family life and life in general. The society gains because family-friendly policies lead to more stable families with time to contribute to their communities, and better outcomes for children.

The best promoters of family-friendly policies are those who have both the knowledge and credibility to make the argument for them. These include business people who have adopted such policies themselves and had good results; politicians and other policy makers who've examined the issue; working families and those affiliated with them (labor unions, e.g.); interested influential citizens; the media; or a broad-based coalition including most or all of these groups as members.

The best times to promote family-friendly policies are when people are thinking about families and the problems that often beset them. When workers and families themselves broach the issue, when many families are clearly in difficult circumstances (as in a recession), when family-related issues such as domestic violence or child hunger are in the news, or when family becomes an issue in a political campaign, the time may be ripe to push for the adoption of family-friendly policies. Other good opportunities may arise during any political campaign; in the course of labor negotiations; or as part of a community development effort.

There are a number of steps to take in order to gain the acceptance of family-friendly policies in business and government:

  1. Decide where to start. Choose a goal that's reachable, that reflects the needs of families in your community, and that has widespread support.
  2. Do your homework. Do your research, so you have all the facts, as well as ideas about what might work in your situation.
  3. Offer to help find solutions that work. Generate and present alternatives that take into account the priorities of all groups involved, and make family-friendly policies more feasible and palatable to everyone.
  4. Point to and reward those businesses and government agencies who support and engage in family-friendly practices.
  5. Frame the debate as a win-win situation. Emphasize the fact that family-friendly policies benefit everyone.
  6. Marshal support. Form a coalition if you can, and/or enlist already-existing groups to bolster your effort.
  7. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Get your message out through every channel and by every method available to you.
  8. Advocate for family-friendly policies in whatever ways are appropriate to the situation. Use whatever advocacy techniques work for the situation, from a media blitz to labor negotiations to direct action.
  9. Evaluate and adapt family-friendly policies and programs, so they'll serve everyone better.
  10. Continue promoting family-friendly policies in business and government indefinitely.

If you can follow these steps successfully, your campaign should be successful as well, and family-friendly business and government policies will bring rewards to everyone in your community.

Phil Rabinowitz

Online Resources

Be Family-Friendly: It's Good Business. "How business can support family involvement in education," from the U.S. Department of Education. An example of how government can support the adoption of family-friendly policies without mandating them.

Charlotte (NC) Parent magazine. Contains an article on family-friendly businesses and a "Top 40" list of Charlotte-area family-friendly businesses, outlining their family-friendly practices.

Child Care Resources of King County, Washington. A non-profit that consults with business on child care issues.

A study on "Effects of Family-Friendly Policies on Business Performance."

"An examination of the Impact of Family-Friendly Policies on the Glass Ceiling," from the Cornell School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Catherwood Library.

Have Your Job and Leave It, Too - facts about Family Medical Leave Act. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the Family and Medical Leave Act from Kiplinger's Magazine.

Family-Friendly Leave Policies from the U.S. Office of Personal Management Compensation Administration. Texts of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA); Federal Employees Family Friendly Leave Act (1994); Sick Leave for Adoption (1994); Leave for Bone-Marrow or Organ Donation (1994); Federal Leave Sharing (1994); and other family-friendly laws.

Family-friendly policies at the University of California.

Family-Friendly Policies, Programs, and Practices. Family-friendly policies at the University of Waterloo (Ontario, Canada).

"Family-friendly policies help businesses." A BBC report on a study that shows family-friendly policies increase productivity for UK businesses (but not for public entities).

"Flexible hours boost for working parents." A BBC report on a UK law to allow flexible work schedules for parents.

"The nature and pattern of family-friendly employment policies in Britain." A study from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation showing the benefits for British companies of family-friendly policies.

The Work & Family Connection, a clearinghouse on work-life. Articles, links, subscription service, courses, etc.

Print Resources

Schorr, B. (1997). Common Purpose: Strengthening Families and Neighborhoods to Rebuild America. New York, NY: Anchor Books/Doubleday.