What the US military teaches companies about supporting families

Here’s the drill: keep work routines consistent and be with your kids – even when you’re not

Connect working parents to each other: when a military family needs help, they ask another military family

Connect working parents to each other: when a military family needs help, they ask another military family

 

There’s an unexpected source of insight for all working parents struggling to manage their career and children – and for organisations struggling to find meaningful, practical ways to support its working-parent employees.

That source is the US military.

During 15-plus years of constant military activity and the associated deployments, redeployments and other extraordinary demands made on military professionals and their families, the armed forces have implemented practical, creative solutions that work. Many of these approaches can be used by all organisations, regardless of resources.

Prioritise Predictability – As a counterweight to demanding schedules, military leaders are expected to make all scheduled, regular commitments as predictable as possible. If a training exercise is due to end at 6pm, it ends at 6pm, not 6:22. Employees can make it to day care, the soccer game or home for dinner.

Predictability, not just flexibility, helps working parents. Insist on ending the weekly sales meeting on time, and you’re more likely to keep your high-performing working-parent employees.

Keep Work Routines Consistent – People in careers that demand extended travel and prolonged periods of intense work naturally want to shut off in between projects. But such drastic switches in routine knock professionals off their game at work and wreak havoc on relationships at home, particularly with young children. Instead, the military encourages returning soldiers to adopt moderate, workable schedules.

If you’re a consultant returning from a long business trip, don’t “overcorrect” for your time away from home. Find a moderate routine that works for your business and kids alike.

Advertise and Destigmatise the Resources your Organisation Offers – Military leaders are encouraged to talk openly with their staff about programmes and resources for families; advertisements of the services are placed where soldiers can see them. The counselling and resources available through your employee assistance program are unlikely to do your employees any good if they’re known only to a select few in human resources.

Connect Working Parents to Each Other – In the military, support comes largely through a peer-to-peer model: when a military family needs help, they ask another military family. An informal working-parents network, or a working-parent page on your corporate intranet, could be a very powerful tool for retention and working-parent support – at little to no cost.

Be Present While Away – Military families are trained to minimise the impact of long hours and deployment. If you’re spending late hours at the office on a big project, make sure your children have easy access to reminders of you throughout your home. Put the toys you enjoy together or photos of your recent family trip where your kids can easily see them. Be with them, even when you’re not.

Don’t Talk – Do – The most effective way to communicate with your child is not through questions such as “How was your day?” but through activities such as athletics, reading and music. Pick up a baseball glove or book as soon as you get home. – Copyright Harvard Business Review 2017

Daisy Wademan Dowling is the founder and chief executive of Workparent.

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