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Here’s a basic truth of running a company: You never just hire an employee. You hire the employee’s whole family.

Don’t believe me? Well, ask yourself a few questions. How much time do you think each employee spends thinking about their spouse/partner/kids each day? How many days do your employees miss because they are taking care of sick children or other family responsibilities? And how much money does your company spend on healthcare and other benefits for dependent family members?

You can’t escape it: When you hire an employee, you’re also hiring their family. What you can do is make a basic decision: How will you regard these families? Will you treat them like burdens—or will you strive to develop a truly family-first culture?

The Wrong Way to Think About Family

Unfortunately, I meet a lot of business owners who think about their employees’ families in all the wrong ways. They really do view them as burdens, and for all the reasons I listed above—dependent benefits, lost work days, etc.

Does your company have the wrong view of family? There are a few warning signs that your company culture is hostile to family. Consider these:

  • Your employees are highly secretive/private about family needs, family appointments, etc.
  • Your employees submit a lot of FMLA complaints.
  • You notice a lot of unexplained absenteeism, or sudden drops in productivity from your shining-star employees.

Any of these warning signs might suggest that yours is not a family-first culture.

Reversing Course

But what if that’s the case? What can you do about it? Let me offer just a few quick tips.

  1. Poll your employees. Ask them about any unmet needs, or ways in which the company culture makes life tougher on their families. Get to know some of the specific issues that are important to your employees.
  2. Understand that supporting families may mean different things to different people. Older employees may value PTO and the chance to be with their kids, while younger employees may be more interested in ways they can save for college tuition and other down-the-road concerns. Be willing to be flexible.
  3. Design your company’s benefits program with these needs in mind. Don’t give your employees what you think they want, but what they say they want—on behalf of their families.

The bottom line? Culture is something you create—and if you want yours to be family-first, here’s where you need to start.