What IS a Pro-Family Workplace?

I realise we tend to go for the quick fixes or initiatives that make for a good story. What is harder to address is workplace culture.

By Joanna Koh-Hoe | 20 September, 2019

A version of this forum letter was published in the Straits Times on 18 September 2019.

As a working mum, an employer and an employee answerable to a non-profit Board, I totally agree that “Pro-Family Workplace Helps Parents” (ST, 11 Sep 2019).

This year, our organisation will see another 4 staff welcome a new addition to their family – this is about 10% of our workforce, which may seem small, but for a donor-supported charity with a lean staff and tight budget, the impact on the rest of the organisation can be enormous.

This means colleagues doubling up to cover the employee on maternity or paternity leave. Hiring temporary staff would be challenging with the less attractive salaries we offer and training them would add to existing workload. While engaging volunteers is an option, many also have their own family and personal commitments.

So what does it mean to be a “pro-family workplace”?

Infrastructure-wise, we have a lactation room with a hand-me-down mini fridge, which also triples up as a meeting room and additional counseling room to fully utilise limited space. 90% of our staff are on laptops and 65% on flexible work arrangements due to family care needs and, honestly, because we don’t have enough workspace. Parents are also allowed to bring their kids to work to manage childcare. Undoubtedly, with all these, our organisation has enjoyed low employee absenteeism rates and high employee engagement scores.

Is it about providing occasional workplace talks on mental and physical well-being, or organising activities for staff and their families? Having grappled with this for almost 20 years, I realise we tend to go for the quick fixes or initiatives that make for a good story. What is harder to address is workplace culture.

How can an organisation be pro-family while insisting that a mother stays in the workforce? How does a company rehire a back-to-work mum and reinstate all her employee benefits as if she never left? What do you do when much of the organisation’s work takes place during weekends, week nights or school holidays, when working parents need that time with their children?

These are real questions with no easy solutions. What never fails is returning to the human factor of work – valuing people and relationships. Perhaps, other than policies, programmes and incentives, regular workplace conversations about work-life satisfaction need to take place, so that employer and employee come to a win-win conclusion that gets the work done because the home is well taken care of.

Joanna Koh-Hoe
CEO, Focus on the Family Singapore
Work-Life Champion, Consultant and Trainer


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