Are Parents Worth the Price?

A recent article on parents in Silicon Valley splashed through my twitter account and hooked me in to reading it.

It danced around an idea that some workplaces play in to: Parents are worse employees than non-parents.

They're less flexible ("can't stay late boss, gotta pick up the kids from daycare"). They're not as dedicated ("can't work today boss, my kid has been up all night vomiting and can't go to school"). They're also less likely to commit time to professional development outside of work hours ("I'd love to learn that new skill but my kid wants to go fly a kite with me").

Many workplaces rely on this extracurricular activity to make up for days filled with meetings. Many rely on employees being committed to the fast-paced requirements of the industry to keep up with it all. Parents simply don't fit that lifestyle, and that's perfectly acceptable (as long as they work at a different company).

Is it so selfish for a company to want the most out of its employees? If Jane can work 45 hours a week, why can't we expect Joe to at least work 42? Surely kids can't be the difference between working two extra hours a week. Shouldn't we expect Joe to be as committed to the company?


It's this type of attitude, the idea that extra hours are what make the difference between someone committed and someone who's “not a good fit”, that's toxic and rips a healthy company culture to shreds.

If you're worried about someone working extra hours per week, you're worried about the wrong thing. Asking your employees to work nights or the weekend is a culture smell. It means that you're doing something wrong the first 40 hours. Maybe it's too many meetings. Maybe it's not getting your employees engaged. Maybe it's just a bad business model.

Pay attention to that part of the equation. If you can't be profitable with your employees working only 40 hours a week, you're doing something wrong.

Besides, did you hire someone to fill out numbers in a timesheet, or did you hire them because they're extremely passionate about what they do? So passionate that, despite working 20 less hours a week, they still contribute a net positive to your company.

Maybe not as much as the 23-year-old hotshot who doesn't have many obligations. The girl or guy who doesn't even have to be asked to work extra; they simply volunteer it.

Great. Keep that employee. Promote them, mentor them, help them along and make sure they don't burn out. They're passionate, and that's what matters. Being passionate is what matters.

Hours also matter, sure. You can't be productive without putting in time. I'm not saying you bankroll parents and pay their kids college tuition without expecting anything back. They should work for their money just like everyone else.

But realize that they work harder than any other employee. Not only are they throwing in 40+ hours a week at work, they're also putting in hours at home. As soon as they open that front door, their second job starts: raising the next generation of human beings. Is anything your company does more important than helping a kid discover the world?

My point is this: parents may not be the star employee you idealize, but they're working their asses off just like everyone else. They're constantly chasing their professional AND parenting dreams. Every day. Every night.

Believe me when I say that parents work late every single night.

As a tech company, and more importantly as a member of the human race, learn to live with it. Learn to love your parents and build them in to the system. Support them and work to include them.

In the same way that remote workers can promote healthier communication, parents can promote healthier work lives. Love your parents and they'll love you in a way that only a parent can.