Five strategies for sidestepping the workplace culture war
A recent trending video on Tik-Tok provides a cautionary tale for employers – with concerning implications for working parents. In it, the creator shares her experience requesting and receiving approval for Christmas holiday vacation. Subsequently, she is asked by her manager to change dates because one of her colleagues – a parent of two children – can only take family vacation during school breaks. She declines, so her frustrated manager directs her to tell her colleague and mom of two that she “won’t be able to take her kids to Disney.” The situation devolves into a workplace drama… one that could have been avoided entirely. But what does this have to do with working parents, and what lessons can be learned from it?
It turns out the video is not about vacation policy or manager training. Instead, it focuses on this employee’s perception that working parents feel entitled to special treatment because of their personal life choices. This is a toxic sentiment that can damage organizational culture if left unchecked. Acknowledging the reality that different employee groups have different needs can be complicated, particularly when it comes to ensuring fair and equitable treatment for all. But leaving that dilemma in a manager’s hands without a guiding company policy is unfair, and turfing it back onto the employees to work it out for themselves is even worse.
We can only infer so much from a Tik-Tok video, so let’s move beyond this specific example to examine 5 things companies can do to get out in front of issues like these. And given Josie’s focus on helping companies support working parents, we will frame our takeaways through that lens:
- Take a values-based approach to developing benefit policies and ensure that the rationale is communicated as part of the offering. When policy aligns with shared employer-employee values, it is much easier for everyone involved to respect intent and work productively through disagreements or misunderstandings. At Josie, we use this framework as the basis for building effective parental leave and return to work programs that balance the needs of both employer and employee.
- Manager training is a must – it is imperative that benefit policies be applied consistently across the board. We have found that many new parents’ return-to-work experiences are impacted significantly by how their managers handle the first weeks back from leave; yet more often than not, this comes down to manager personality rather than reflecting a broader company philosophy or top-down program design.
- Encourage optimal outcomes. This seems like common sense but is often overlooked. For example, some employees (regardless of parenting status) may have flexibility to travel during less busy times, but schedule holiday leave because it is a traditional time for families and friends to gather. With the right incentives (e.g., an extra paid day for leave taken during off-peak periods), some employees might alter their vacation plans, reducing pressure on the system overall.
- Consider models other than first come, first serve. There are many other effective approaches that allow for an organization and its employees to fairly adjudicate vacation requests. For recent parents, there are many things to learn about life with a new baby that can make planning far in advance challenging. A transparent policy that clearly defines decision criteria and timeframes may yield more equitable outcomes for all employees.
- Once policy is set, stay the course. Introducing exceptions based on individual circumstances – even with the best of intentions – sets dangerous precedent that can result in entire groups being vilified. For all employees and working parents in particular, it is challenging enough to balance work and home life without adding a toxic workplace culture into the mix.
Building a healthy workplace culture that respects the diverse needs of all employees pays huge dividends in worker satisfaction, engagement, and loyalty. Designing benefit programs that incorporate the five strategies outlined above will support this objective strongly. At Josie, we see the power of this approach every day, through our high-impact work with progressive employers seeking to enhance company culture by crafting and implementing thoughtful parental leave and return-to-work programs.