Raising a Voice for Human-Centered Work Policies

John's daughter Emily, her husband, and Baby

This summer, my life changed forever when Jane Adams Benefield graced our family with her remarkable presence.

Jane is not my first grandchild, but she is my first granddaughter. She's also the first child of my youngest daughter, Emily, who recently left a full-time position with a fast-growing Silicon Valley startup to pursue a freelance career that afforded more time and flexibility for her growing family.

It wasn't an easy decision. Before placing her career on hold, Emily interviewed with numerous companies, yet none offered part-time or flex-work options. While I understood and respected her decision, I worried that, in an age when women are increasingly heeding the wisdom of Sheryl Sandberg and leaning in, my talented and ambitious daughter was leaning out.

Just to be clear, I have no doubt that Emily will be professionally successful, but I wish she'd had the opportunity to calibrate her career options without calculating the tolls on her family's wellbeing.

Policy talks, talent walks

Corporate America will not change until significantly more professionals choose to work for purpose-driven brands that offer reasonable family leave and flex-work policies. Yet most people feel understandably anxious about discussing these issues during the interview process for fear it will jeopardize their prospects. As a result, companies are losing top talent, while professionals, like Emily, are walking out the door.

Here are four ways to foster a human-centered workplace:

1. Work for values-driven brands. The number one way to effect change is to leverage our collective labor power by working for companies that prioritize purpose over profits. These employers typically offer more generous benefits packages that meet the needs of the whole person. Ironically, they also tend to be the most successful. According to Harvard Business School professors John Kotter and James Heskett, stock prices at values-driven companies outperformed their non-values-driven counterparts by twelve-fold over ten years.

2. Ask about family leave and flex-work policies. If these policies matter to you, don't go sleuthing around Glassdoor looking for answers. Instead, share these valid questions with the HR recruiter. If you wind up not getting the job, and you believe it's related to this issue, be sure to share your experiences on Glassdoor. And consider yourself fortunate for dodging a bullet. This is not a culture that will be conducive to long-term growth and wellbeing.

3. Request accommodations. Even if your company doesn't currently offer flex-work options or reasonable family leave, consider asking them to accommodate your needs. Sure, they might say no, but they could surprise you. It will also make it that much easier for other employees down the line to raise these issues. Remember, change begins with you.

4. Tell companies why you're leaving. Before you speed down the exit lane, be sure to inform your manager or HR business partner that lack of progressive work-life policies was a major factor. Regrettable attrition costs companies big bucks, so telling them that updating their policies could have kept you around is the surest way to motivate a reevaluation of their policies. Far from burning bridges, your feedback will provide a valuable business insight.

When talented professionals quietly leave the workforce without asking for reasonable work-life policies, we all lose. And until more people start making this a decisive issue, companies will continue to fall back on plausible deniability in scrimping on these life-enriching benefits. 

Here's hoping we can work together to create a more human-centered workplace, so that when baby Jane grows up, she'll be able to forge whatever path her precious heart desires.  


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