Children and the office
The other day as I read Business Week, I saw a little story about The Office Kid. This is a kit you can buy on the Internet that comes with a picture of your kid and some artwork. You can also buy add-ons such as a picture of you with your kid’s sports team. This is really a bit tongue-in-cheek as the kit is marketed to people who don’t have kids but want to have the same excuses to use at work that a parent does.
You see, for decades, childless workers have felt that they got stuck taking up the slack when a co-worker needed to miss work to take care of a child. Need someone to work overtime? Well, we can’t ask Pat since she has to pick up her kid after work—we’ll ask Sam instead since she doesn’t have kids.
At this point in the article, some of my readers are shaking their heads up and down and others are shaking their fists. But before you without kids get all haughty and those of you with kids start lecturing me about the tribulations of parenthood, let’s all admit that kids do change your life. And they also change your work life.
As a childless worker did I have to cover now and then for a peer who needed to have a meeting at school or take their kid to a doctor’s appointment? Sure. Did I mind? Nope. They were the same people who covered for me as I was at the hospital during my Dad’s surgery or who took over a class for me when I had the flu.
The key was that neither of us was trying to take advantage of the situation and the other people in the office knew it. We also knew that life wasn’t fair. Yes, I’d end up putting in more hours, but my parent friends would have to work a bit more feverishly to get their tasks done given less time, and often less sleep. I had more time to complete my college. They had a harder time with it, taking longer or not having the opportunity to finish theirs.
The shoe is also sometimes on the other foot. Without kids there often come more spare hours in the day that bring their own work-interfering problems. It might be a weekend rugby team that takes a work-day trip to a state championship or needing to leave early to get in some study time for a night-school final. In other words, kids aren’t the only generators of workplace interruptions; interruptions for which someone has to take up the slack.
So the question for those of you running a business is how you keep non-work parts of a person’s life from interfering with their work. That’s a complex question with a simple answer: you can’t. What you can do is to make sure that everyone knows the minimums that must be met. You can ensure that rules are enforced the same no matter the excuse. And you can ensure that those who go the extra mile get rewarded for it.