By Julia Beck
The Washington Post
We know necessity is the mother of invention. But this Father’s Day, we wanted to take a look at the impact becoming a dad had on a few businesses. It’s a fun day to see how parenthood created an “aha” moment for a few dad-preneurs.
From the “Zuckerberg effect” on the workplace (Is leave offered? Then take it, for everyone’s sake!), to newly defined flexibility and workplace support, here’s how a handful of dads are working to get it right for families and change the dads-at-work landscape.
Neighborhood Restaurant Group, Washington, D.C.
Founder Michael Babin has become an accidental leader in the change we all need in the workplace. And he’s making the change in the hospitality industry, which is one of the trickiest to navigate. Babin opened his first property, the Evening Star Cafe, 20 years ago. Since then he has become a father to four children and has opened 20 stores. Through this, Babin has experienced firsthand the grueling work and long hours that are a given in the restaurant business. He has concluded that such wear and tear was not at all conducive to “having a life.” And, yes, he wants one. “It quickly became obvious to me that the ‘doing whatever it takes’ model was not sustainable,” he says. “I knew I needed these hard-earned relationships to last, so I focused on flexibility.” And guess what? There has been virtually no turnover of the original kitchen support team at Evening Star, Babin says.
NRG’s policy on parental leave is a combined amount of leave of up to seven weeks for salaried employees, and up to five weeks for nonsalaried. NRG maintains flexible policies on leave for family emergencies, including sick leave, parental leave, bereavement and other emergency-oriented leave. These leave requests are evaluated on a case-by-case basis, but in most cases, employees with family or other emergency issues are granted time to care for sick or ailing children and other family members. Babin estimates that this approach increases NRG’s retention rate from 30 percent in some properties to as high as 70 percent in properties that have been in the group for a longer time.
“I practice a policy of extreme flexibility with a focus on livable hours,” Babin says. For employees, this means that they will get the time they need for whatever comes up — be it a pregnancy complication, a new baby, a sick child or parent. The answer is always “don’t worry about the business right now; focus on what you need,” Babin says.
Chef Tony Chittum has been with NRG for nine years and is the father of a 3-year-old. “When Silas came along, it was life-changing. I am able to manage my time in a way that leaves me feeling that I am doing well at both my work and at home,” Chittum says. “I take two days off a week, I take three weeks a year to travel to Greece to visit my wife’s family every year, and I have the full support of management when I need to cover as I did last week when Silas was too sick to go to day care. I would say my priorities are understood and respected.”
HubSpot, Cambridge, Mass.
Jim O’Neill is HubSpot’s executive in residence and is working on special projects for the firm’s chief operating officer and people operations team. In this capacity, O’Neill has not only directed the overall employee experience and “happiness strategy” but also has kept busy with HubSpot’s ongoing baby boom. Of 1,800 employees, HubSpot had 50 parental leaves taken in 2016 (26 by primary caregivers, 24 by secondary). HubSpot workers are on track to have more this year.
O’Neill wants to see his parent-employees return. As a father of two, he says he knows the importance of making sure parents can be present for their children whenever necessary. He has been instrumental in ensuring flextime, flexible working hours, and work-from-home options for all employees, and in providing four weeks paid paternal leave. Women get 100 percent paid primary caregiver leave for up to 12 weeks for both the birth and adoption of a child.
For those who have multiple births (i.e. twins, triplets, etc.), HubSpot offers 100 percent paid primary caregiver leave for up to 16 weeks for both the birth and adoption of a child. Men get up to eight weeks of secondary care giver (or paternity) leave for the birth or adoption of a child, with four weeks at 100 percent base salary and four weeks unpaid. And, for those who have multiple births, HubSpot provides 100 percent paid secondary caregiver leave for up to five weeks and three days for both the birth and adoption of a child.
Tyler Littwin is a senior art director who started at HubSpot four years ago, long before he was the father a 19-month-old with his second baby due. He knew of HubSpot’s policies but did not understand their value until he was a parent. For this baby, as with the last, he will take a month and a half off when the baby is born and then an additional month of leave when his wife returns to her job. He will continue to work remotely and visit the office no more than once or twice a month. “I am on the older side as far as HubSpot employees go, so I have more experience with the benefits in practice. I can say I feel valued and appreciated. Best of all, the company has cast aside traditional gender roles, which gives men an equal chance to parent,” he says. As far as the younger employees go, Littwin says, “they may not get how fortunate this is now, but they will.”
Warby Parker, New York City
Speaking of new ways of seeing things, Warby Parker co-founder Neil Blumenthal is leading his rapidly growing organization straight into a baby boom that started with his own two children. He says his experiences both as a parent and as manager to parents helped him shape priorities and create a flexible and respectful culture. This has included a clear, organization-wide mandate and a shift in mentality about the value of people’s time. “I thought I was efficient with time, but having children forced me to be more so,” he says. From that came shifts in meeting expectations. At Warby Parker, this means not calling meetings for follow-up that can be handled via email or phone. “Parents are less tolerant of bad meetings, and I applaud that,” he says. This also means that meetings do not start before 9 a.m. “so parents have the chance to drop their kids off at school without missing a beat in the office.”
The positive outcome is clear. In the first six years of Warby Parker’s history, 13 parents left for parental leave, and all of them returned to Warby. Warby Parker is up to their sixth space in New York City and their first in Nashville. By office number three, each included a warmly decorated, well-equipped lactation room with locks on the door and mini-fridges, along with a benefits package for parents that includes flexible parental leave that can be taken at the employee’s discretion. “One new father on our team has decided to use the balance of his leave as Fridays off with his son — and I think that is a great choice — if it works for him, strengthens his family, we make sure it works for us,” Blumenthal said.
“As a country we can do more — paid family leave, built in flexibility and much more,” Blumenthal adds. “That’s particularly important for fathers who can play a larger supportive role at home … in the weeks and months following birth.”
Julia Beck is the founder of the It’s Working Project and Forty Weeks. Beck is based in Washington, D.C., where she is the matriarch of a blended family that includes a loving husband, a loyal golden retriever and four children — all of whom are her favorite.
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