It’s more commonplace in small to medium offices, this ‘bringing your child to work’ thing. And it’s often the boss that seems to do it.
To some extent that’s fine. You are the boss after all. And whilst SME owners must take advantage of the creative freedoms “being their own boss” brings, such as having a direct hand in cultivating their own office culture; bringing elements of your personal life into the office space especially when that office space is smaller may confuse your employees.
This includes bringing your romantic partner, or other extra-familial members to the office too.
It’s not that SME employees are so dim as to be shocked, or confused, that their boss has a (gulp) even a personal life outside of the office, but is there a balancing act to be struck here?
To find out, let’s explore the potential risks, as well as the rewards involved in bringing your kiddies to work, start with the risks or skip ahead to read testimonies from staff members and kid owning CEOs themselves…
1. Employees may overstep boundaries
When you bring your children, or partner, into the office environment that YOU run, you’re also letting elements of your personal life flood the workspace – for all to see.
Now we’re not talking about imposter syndrome here, whereby a boss may cultivate a tough business reputation that’s radically different from their personal one due to feelings of not being talented enough as their own, real, self; however, you have to set boundaries between the boss you, and the recreational you.
“While inviting family members into the office will let your employees know you’re human, it can make for tricky communicational ground in terms of how employees feel they can approach you.”
Some employees may use it as an opportunity to gain some leverage against you by trying to befriend your familial connections. By simply knowing you have additional responsibilities, and a ‘soft side’, they could try and get some of their own concessions including additional time off to serve their own ‘responsibilities’ in turn.
When it comes to more senior staff in an SME, it’s not unheard of that CEOs often cultivate strong social friendships with senior management due to the more collaborative, informal, and often intense nature of smaller self-run businesses.
Whilst doing so is your own choice, make sure you control what they see, and how they see you when you’re in the office.
2. It could encourage a waterfall of requests
Simply put, if you bring in family members to the office, such as children, other staff may ask if they can too.
Whether they want their kids to chill in the office for a couple of hours on a Thursday, or a request to have an informal creche style situation, it’s important that you don’t feel pressured to accept these terms.
“The best way you can avoid this conversation about ‘kid-friendly’ offices happening, is if you don’t make it ‘a thing’ in the first place.”
Allowing an ad-hoc ‘bring your child to work policy’ to take hold is not only an administrative nightmare for HR, (health and safety guys!) It isn’t fair on other members of staff either.
You have to take into consideration what other employees (who may not have children) will feel about the potential distractions of having the pitter-patter of little feet running around the office.
“An office is like a commune, as the boss, you need to ensure the greatest professional comfort for the greatest number of employees.”
To create a balanced and largely enjoyable office ecosystem, start by drawing strict boundaries from the outset, and leave no spaces for arguments or requests.
“If the office is a child-free zone, then it’s a child-free- zone, no ifs, no buts.”
Strike this policy as you would with anything else, such as prohibiting smoking in the office. It’s not allowed, and that goes for everyone, – it’s the same thing.
3. You give validation to unflattering stereotypes about startups
I’m sure you’ve all heard these sorts of sentiments from employees, or maybe on online forums…
Namely that working for a startup is more rewarding and exciting than working for bigger companies, but it can be unprofessional at times.
From casual boss-employee encounters to heightened levels of responsibility and a possible lack of process, staff can feel that working for smaller companies, (and in close proximity to a CEO or founder), can be hard terrain to navigate on a social – and emotional level.
“In the absence of an army of line-managers and HR teams, you as the SME boss must be the gate-keeper of office professionalism.”
This starts with how you are perceived as a boss. If you enter the office with rosy-cheeked kids in tow, and all jovial and high-spirited, only to descend into harshly disciplining staff five minutes later, you’ll start to look like a Nero sort of figure.
“So, avoid looking like an SME dictator by leaving your personal self at the door.”
Now we’re not saying act like the cold robotic boss in the office, but don’t give any opportunities away for employees to paint you as contrary in your behaviour. Employees are not emotionally immature, but on a subconscious level, they may get confused about your personality if they see you with both ‘hats’ on in the office.
Avoid confusion, just bring your work hat to the office, – and keep it on. Remember this ‘hat’ can be friendly, but firm and professional.
You don’t want this to affect how members of staff may approach you, where communications can break down if they see you as sweet one minute and stormy the next. If staff see you as emotionally unstable in any way, they may be nervous to approach you – and that makes for some toxic office politics.
Comments from inside the office: Martina Mercer, Tax Rebate Services
“There are a few benefits to the CEO bringing children into the office. For employees it can add depth to the CEO’s character, allowing them to see their boss as a human, with a life outside the business. This can create conversations and connections and in turn, strengthen respect and loyalty while making the CEO seem more approachable.
“Consumers are also more likely to identify with an SME that shares their core values, and family is at the heart of most people’s core beliefs.
“The children will also benefit by being able to visualise where their parents work, who they work with and how different it is to their home life, on seeing the workplace and meeting the staff, resentments on time spent away from the home could lessen.”
The downside to bringing kids to work
“There are many taboos surrounding the idea of bringing children to work. This is because children are often a full-time job and need constant supervision, and so neither the child or the business can receive 100% attention.
“Having children present is also seen as unprofessional and in the workplace, there are definitely Victorian stigmas attached, where they should not be seen or heard. This is quite understandable, as few business customers would enjoy being placed second in the priority list by a salesperson or staff member.”
Words from a CEO: Clive Armitage, Agent3
“SME businesses, because of their size and structures tend to often be described as ‘families’ by employees; the cultural and social bonds of people in smaller, more tight-knit teams encourage this feeling, in comparison to large, perhaps more impersonal multinationals.
“As there is more of a family feel in SMEs (which encourages staff loyalty and promotes higher staff satisfaction) it feels natural to also involve our children, in our business life from time to time.
“I’m not an advocate for regular appearances of children in the office; the workplace is absolutely a place for, well, work and too many instances where the kids turn up could be distracting!
“However, for certain times of the year and particularly during school holidays, I think it’s constructive for me to take one of my children into the office to spend time with me. This helps them to understand who I work with and what I do all day; after all, I spend enough time at work!
“I find my kids enjoy the experience as it gives context to what I talk about in terms of my work and it is a totally different environment to what they are used to.
“I think staff likely appreciate it too because they see a different side to me and also are intrigued to see my children and what they are like. And lastly, I like it too; running an SME is a challenge and hugely rewarding but having the freedom to occasionally bring my kids to work makes things feel less like work for the odd day that it happens. And that has to be a good thing!”
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