Friday, June 5, 2015

The Parent Bonus

What if you got rewarded at work for being a good parent?

Your daughter reports that you inspired her to tutor a struggling classmate: here's a bonus of a week's salary. Your son tells us you're never home for dinner: we're going to have to dock you for that.

Good parenting skills and good work skills share common attributes. Good coach at home, good coach for the work team. Inspirational at home, inspirational at work. Realistic goal setting at home, realistic goal setting at work. A Career Builder poll timed to coincide with Mother's Day this year found that 69% of employers see work benefits in parenting skills. High on the list, as any parent knows, were multi-tasking and conflict management.

When I was a lawyer, we billed our time by the hour. The firm's managers, not surprisingly, gave the highest financial rewards to the lawyers who worked the most hours. I don't have to tell you that among a group of highly competitive, ambitious young lawyers, that was a prescription for missed family dinners and soccer games and pretty much everything else but major holidays, and then only for a half-day. The managing partner of my firm, the one who was prodding us all to work harder, once told me late in his life that his only regret was not spending more time with his family.

There was a time when people worked closely together and knew each other's personal circumstances. The wife is sick? Take off as long as you need, family is the most important thing. But for a long time now, the opposite has been the norm. Don't bring your personal problems to work.

That's ridiculous, of course. You can't check your personal problems at the reception desk. They are with you always. And if you can't deal with them in a satisfactory way, they eat at you. They degrade your work performance. Eventually they can cost you your job. Or your family. No one should have to make that choice.

For reticent employers, here's a modest beginning: Tell your people to take all their vacation days or you'll reduce their pay. Take all their maternity leave. Fathers too. No overtime over a certain limit. Tell them you don't want to see them in their cubicles at all hours of the night on a regular basis. Tell them you'll pay them less, not more, if you do.

This is a gender-equality issue. Not just for women, for men too. Women don't want to be forced onto the mommy track. And men don't want to miss all the soccer games. Even if a man wants to be an equal partner in parenting and housework, employer expectations do not accommodate that. "He's not a fighter pilot. I don't want him on my team." I used to think that way myself.

In too many jobs, the path to success does not run close to home. Men and women who climb the competitive ladder by giving it all at the office may be happy for a while--or think they are--but many end up with same regrets as my old managing partner. As Rabbi Harold Kushner famously said: "Nobody on their deathbed has ever said 'I wish I had spent more time at the office.'"

Of course the biggest benefit of rewarding workers for being good parents will be the joy it brings to children everywhere. “Mom and Dad, I’m not sure my evaluation of your parenting this quarter is going to be so good. I think a trip to the ice cream store might be needed to boost your ratings."

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