Beyond Lip Service: How Companies Can Walk The “Family Friendly” Talk

This article originally appeared on

Like many, my corporate journey started while I was young and child-free. With no context of what being a working parent would be like, I thought the benefits at my new job seemed promising: affordable health insurance, flexible work options and paid family leave.

As I settled into the company and parenthood was drawing nearer, I started to notice a certain stigma around family-based benefits. When I announced that I was pregnant, people asked me if it was really necessary to take my full maternity leave. They made jokes about whether or not I would actually return to work and I was told to enjoy my “vacation.”

That was in 2015. Fast forward to today and you’ll see a workforce that is savvier about finding out what type of support and benefits exist under the hood of a company before accepting an offer. Jobseekers are demanding more support for their personal lives and crowdsourcing anonymous employee reviews for potential red flags. Especially after the universally grueling experience of trying to keep work, family and caregiving afloat during a pandemic, people are tired of the “family-friendly” lip service. They’re looking for a culture of care and leaders that demonstrate it.

And forward-thinking companies are taking note. According to Kaleana Quibell, VP, Wellbeing & Partnerships at Sequoia, there’s been an emerging trend where employers go beyond the financial offerings for their workforce and are focusing on how they can lighten the emotional load.

Quibell says, “By providing more guidance, resources and training, employers are saying, ‘We recognize that you truly can’t do your job if we don’t offset some of these emotional stressors.”

Make no mistake that providing family-friendly benefits goes a long way, but it’s the act of bridging the gap between expectation and experience where the opportunity lies.

Make no mistake that providing family-friendly benefits goes a long way, but it’s the act of bridging the gap between expectation and experience where the opportunity lies.

Creating a family-friendly culture starts at the top… and trickles down.

Why is there such a glaring gap between policy and practice? The answer can usually be found by looking at what’s happening across leadership.

A few short months after I returned from my own parental leave, I discovered that an executive leader in my division had hidden that his wife had recently given birth. While it spread through whispers, he never actually shared the news nor took a single day off, even though our company provided paid paternity leave (the cultural norm for dads at the company). Sadly, withholding one’s caregiving status from their employer is all too common.

Needless to say, I felt like there would be a stain on my resume if I acknowledged that I was a working parent with specific needs. How could I not? A key leader was normalizing a culture where we were expected to hide our caregiving status.

This is why you can’t simply put a policy in writing and call it your company culture. The action has to be demonstrated across all levels.

Company leaders, the spotlight is on you to go beyond lip-service and lead a family-friendly life. Your employees are paying attention not because they want to judge you, but because they want to be free from judgment themselves. They notice when you take your parental leave (or don’t), how often you work from home, if you leave early to pick up your kids and if you’re advocating for initiatives that support caregivers at work.

The impact doesn’t stop at leadership.

Managers are the missing piece to this puzzle.

As Quibell says, “On-the-ground managers are ultimately the people faced with the decisions on how to provide flexible work accommodations, performance reviews, and back up coverage. Companies should be equipping managers with training, policies, and resolution tactics that empower them to turn around and make decisions that best support the working parents and caregivers on their teams.”

It’s vital that managers continue to have the conversation with their team about what their individual needs are, as that will inevitably change as the members of their family grow and age. After all, caregiving isn’t just a responsibility for parents. However, Quibell points to exactly what is missing: the training, support, policies and tactics that on-the-ground managers need so that they can confidently address the changing needs of their teams.

Instead of providing managers with consistent training and guidance, employees find themselves at the mercy of what we at WRK/360 refer to as the “boss lottery.” Did they luck out and find themselves reporting to someone that is naturally empathetic, who has caregiving responsibilities themselves and therefore is more aware of the challenges for working caregivers? Or do they find themselves with a boss who simply doesn’t get it, is unwilling to consider flexible options or expects other caregiving employees to manage it exactly the same way they do? Managers are the missing piece to connecting employee policies and establishing culture but only when they are giving the time, space, training and tools to care for their teams.

A culture of care is both a personal and professional investment.

Throughout our career journeys, most of us will find ourselves in a caregiving role (or needing care ourselves). Whether it’s for a newborn baby, an elderly parent, a family member or another coworker, care is essential to our humanity. Managers and leaders that demonstrate care for their teams and others outside of work are leading an environment where employees won’t feel the need to hide their caregiving status.

We’ve all seen examples of the research proving that companies actively investing in work/life support see the return in increased productivity, turnover reduction and improved employee mental and physical health. Simply put—investing in your people is good for their personal lives and for business. This investment also reaps positive diversity outcomes, as women and people of color are statistically most disadvantaged from a lack of work/life support.

When companies implement family-friendly policies and both leaders and managers carry them through, it creates a meaningful culture shift. If companies start competing for talent by actively advocating for new and existing caregivers through both policy and action, how can we all not win?

Posted In: Fathers & Work, Mothers & Work, Work & Family

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