Family friendly workplaces

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(Host) Commentator Madeleine Kunin reflects on the challenges and rewards of developing more family-friendly policies for the work place.

(Kunin) How do you retain a highly trained and committed staff that loves to come to work in the morning? I put that question to Williston opthalmologist, Dr. Juli Larson, who recently came to my attention through an article in the Burlington Free Press. She is one of those rare employers who make a special effort to create a pleasant workspace that will be comfortable for herself, her staff and her patients.

That’s why she provides partially paid maternity leave, fully paid training programs for all her employees on a regular basis, and a flexible schedule that enables them to take time out for dentist appointments, class plays and family emergencies. She is planning to provide childcare benefits for an employee who is on maternity leave.

Isn’t this expensive? Yes, she acknowledges. But it’s worth the investment.

When she invited her staff to a five-day meeting in Orlando, she discovered that “it makes everyone better.” Another reward is that she can provide continuity for her patients. Patients take comfort in knowing that they will see the same people with each appointment. Turnover is rare and loyalty is high.

She decided to establish a family friendly workplace based on her own experience. She’s the mother of three children, 8, 11 and 14. She said that she never could take more than two weeks off after each baby. She understands the tug that most mothers feel between the dual demands of their families and their bosses, and does everything possible to make that conflict less stressful. Unlike most bosses, however, she understands that family comes first.

Why don’t more employers follow suit? It’s common sense to create a work environment that gives people the incentive to do their very best. One of the greatest costs for any business is hiring and training quality employees. A skilled, enthusiastic and reliable work force is worth more than the cost of family friendly benefits. Now it’s time to calculate the costs and benefits to convert the skeptics.

More and more companies are beginning to think in these new ways, but they still are more the exception than the rule. With more and more women with young children in the labor force, policies like Dr. Larson’s should set the standard. Juggling dual responsibilities every day is not just a mothers’ issue. Fathers would like to take a child to the dentist or to a soccer game too.

It is time to change the workplace to accommodate family needs. With two breadwinners in most families they each need time to be there for their kids, as well as for their bosses. The result will pay off, both in real dollars and in good sense.

This is Madeleine May Kunin.

Madeleine Kunin is a former Governor of Vermont.

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