How small businesses can provide a family-friendly workplace

We’ve all heard about the FTSE 500 companies that provide crèches, childcare vouchers, and even family-fun days for working parents. Perhaps they offer shared parental leave, or allow flexible working so mums and dads can pick their kids up whenever they need to.

Companies like Patagonia even offer a bus service to pick kids up from local schools and deliver them to the office-based crèche, while in Mountain View, California, Google has four childcare centres near its campus. At Facebook, employees who have just had a kid are given $4,000 to spend on child-related products, while at Johnson & Johnson, new mums are given a flexible approach to returning to work, but so are employees who need to take time out to care for elderly parents.

In short, there are some big companies out there doing really great things for people with kids and other family obligations. So how can startups and SMEs encourage people with kids to stay? And can SMEs compete with the biggest organisations when it comes to parent-friendly policies?

Matthew Stephenson, owner and manager of Sweetdreams Ltd, an SME based in the north east of England, understands the importance of creating a welcoming environment for families. “People should be treated how you wish to be treated yourself. When a team member has a demand on him/her that is important to them and their family, they have earnt the right to request some flexibility from the company. This creates a positive working environment, with low staff turnover.”


Stephenson adds that having a life/work balance rather than a work/life balance is important. “I try and make sure my company delivers the same to its team members. Decisions are never made on a commercial basis – the impact on people’s lives is always addressed.”

FanFinders, a brand-engagement business, is another company that strives to make it easier for families to thrive. With ten members of staff, anyone who wants to can work remotely. For those with sick children, management lets employees stay at home with their children, with no fuss or guilt. “Their policy is, family comes first,” says founder Alec Dobbie.

Read: Preparing for leadership in a family business

“I want both myself and my staff to be able to enjoy work whilst it not entirely dominating their life's. I'm a big proponent of remote work and we have around 50 per cent of our work force working from home. As a society we need to be able to make 'work' work for us not the other way around. For me this often means working early hours to allow me to walk my kids to and from school.

He explains how technology has really transformed the way we work. “The ability to work flexibly has never been greater than now, various messaging products allow us as parents to be at work when not (there are pro’s and con’s to this however). This tech allows me to run a work day around collecting kids from school, parent’s evenings, after-school activities whilst still being able to respond to urgent issues.”


The best thing about having a family-friendly workplace, he says, is that talented people can continue with their careers even when they start a family. “We offer everyone the opportunity to work remotely when needed and when possible, and many of our staff based in the North work remotely from home on a permanent basis. By not having to worry about the commute or sticking to a restrictive nine to five our staff are able to take their children to school, get their work done and stress a lot less. We find this makes staff happier, loyal and more productive.”

At Piccolo Foods, a small organic baby food company based in London, family is at the very heart of everything they do. Naturally, it’s a child-friendly company anyway, thanks to its market focus. A spokesperson for the company explains how even their founder, Cat, lets her four-year old child accompany the team to big meetings, appointments with new retailers, trade shows or conferences. “This has actually had a great impact on how we are perceived and we are often far more memorable because of it: a true family brand who does things differently.  

She explains: “Three of our senior team work flexibly throughout the week depending on childcare needs or other demands. We have also created new roles in the business for mums wanting to come back to work after maternity leave, and created a whole strategy for how best to immerse them into the world of work after a year off when they were likely to have reduced confidence after being out of an office for so long whilst also juggling apprehension about not being with their child.”

She emphasises the importance of a Mediterranean style of parenting. “Basically, family matters come first – we are based on the Mediterranean approach to family – recognising how vital they are, in terms of the sense of belonging that comes with our community and having that support network around us, particularly as parents.”

So, providing a supportive, nurturing, family-friendly can be done for SMEs. It boils down to what is essentially trust. If you trust an employee to get the job done, work hard, and push for your company’s goals, then allowing them the flexibility to raise a family will lead to happiness, and, ultimately, greater productivity. Win-win.

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