Balancing work and family while trying to climb up the corporate ladder is kind of like the old carnival trick where the performer keeps plates spinning delicately atop long, narrow sticks.
In order to keep the plates from falling and breaking, the carnival worker becomes a part of a never-ending cycle of frantic plate management.
Throw being a single parent into the balancing act of trying to have a home life when you're tethered to your cell phone or working late but still trying to be home for dinner and you might as well plan on buying a lot of new plates.
Long before I occupied the corner office, there was a time when I was a single dad to my two children and an up-and-coming executive for a large corporation. When the demands of being a single parent required me to miss a day or two at the office, I could feel my superiors pondering the age-old question: "Is Gabriel a parent or a corporate executive first?" The answer of course, was both.
Being good at one made me better at the other.
Forward-thinking executives and companies understand that for an employee to be fully engaged, they need to feel things are secure at home just as they know that for an employee to feel things are secure at home, they need to feel secure at work. The two are inextricably linked.
Employers are beginning to see the light and rather than making employees choose between project deadlines and taking care of their kids after school, we are helping them to keep those plates all spinning in the air at the same time.
One of the ways we're doing this is by welcoming kids into the workplace.
As a CEO who has moved my company in this direction, I can tell you that employee retention is up, productivity is up, office morale is up and yes, profits are way up. That said, the experience of this transition has given me some key insight for anyone else considering this move.
1. HAVE GUIDELINES
You can't have a free-for-all. You need guidelines. Will children be welcome every day or just during school breaks and holidays? What times will they be allowed in the office? Are all ages welcome? What process will you use to keep track of how many children are in the office in the event of a forced evacuation, like a gas leak, fire, or killer clowns from outer space?
By making these decisions ahead of time, you provide structure and limits as well as send a subliminal message to your employees the management team has thought long and hard about how best to make this work.
2. BE CONSISTENT
If you're going to let kids in the office, enforce the rules evenly. Everyone's child is equally important and the rules have to be applied to everyone. In other words, there should be no special treatment for your kids or the kids of your favorite employees.
3. HAVE A PLACE SET ASIDE FOR KIDS
Is there an old storage room that isn't being used or that can be emptied out where you can hook up a TV? Is there an open space in the office where kids can be kids? Maybe there are some empty desks children can play video games at, or the older ones can do homework.
Find a space for the children to be, and you'll find that more often than not they will stay in that general area and not really be much of a disruption to the flow of the office.
4. DON'T CRY OVER SPILLED MILK
This I mean literally.
Kids are going to be kids. There will be spilled milk and stuff will get knocked over. Unless your office is the antiquities basement at the Smithsonian, this is not the end of the world. Don't make it out to be.
By right-sizing your response, children will respect you and your team and your employees will too. Besides, there has never been a parent who has ever reacted well to another adult reprimanding their children.
Let us be the generation of CEOs who stop asking the question of where an employee's priorities rest and accept that as we ask our employees to do more and more, that it's entirely reasonable to provide an environment in which they can.