“Family-Friendly” Jobs — What Are They, and What Questions to Ask to Find One

family-friendly jobsHere’s a fun question for the hive:  What do you consider a “family-friendly” job? Have you changed your career or job to seek one? What questions did you ask while interviewing — and which ones do you wish you’d asked? Do different perks and accommodations matter as your child moves through childhood — you need one set of things if you have small children, and another set of perks and allowances if you have older kids? I’m curious to hear what readers say.

For my own $.02, I went from a BigLaw job to a nonprofit with an 8-person staff, thinking it would be a family-friendly job. I wound up leaving after two years to focus on the blog, but part of me thinks I would have ended up leaving anyway because, looking back, I think the job would have been perfect for someone with older kids but not young ones. The staff was so small that not only were we not covered by FMLA, but it would have been difficult to imagine taking anything but a very basic and quick maternity leave of 6-8 weeks — there was no one else to give my work to! Furthermore, the 9-5 hours, which seemed so great compared to BigLaw, would have been difficult to manage with daycare drop-off and pickup, and last minute scrambles in the event of a sick kiddo would probably have grated on my boss’s nerves if they occurred too often. There was travel required for the job, as well… and at the end of the day the salary would not have been enough to sustain our lifestyle in NYC.

Looking through some of the metrics used by the various surveys, to me what would matter most when my kids are small would be things like the option to return to work gradually and the ability to work from home (or the lack of a requirement for facetime during “office hours”), and backup childcare provided through the office would be amazing.

A bit of further reading and links, to spark discussion:

  • Finding a (truly) family-friendly employer [Fortune]
  • 2014 Working Mother 100 Best Companies [Working Mother]
  • Top 10 Jobs for Work and Family Balance [Forbes]
  • SimplyHired has a tool to help find “mom-friendly” jobs
  • I’m not familiar with this site at all, but it looks helpful: Jobs and Moms, from a career coach who helps women find “more family-friendly career paths outside the traditional 9-5 corporate box”

Let’s hear it, ladies — what kind of perks, allowances, policies, and general office culture do you think makes for a “family-friendly” job? How do you find such things — are they unicorns?

Image credit: Shutterstock / Pixelbliss.


  1. I’m actually surprised you thought a 9-5 would be harder for dealing with daycare. That seems more ideal! Drop the kid off before you go to the office and pick them up on your way home. What am I not seeing here?

    • I think this has more to do with the ‘facetime’ requirement – that total hours or quality of work aren’t important, but rather being there at 9a.m. sharp and being able to stay til 5 (or later). Sometimes with kids that’s just not possible – but that doesn’t mean you’re not working. Having a workplace that understands that is so important.

      I have a job that might require me to work at all hours, but if I can do that work from my couch in pajamas, I am a lot happier than being kept at the office til who knows when. And I can take off during the day for a medical appointment, leave early if I need to, etc. This because all they care is I do my work, not that I’m physically in the office from 9-5 each day.

      • Yes, this is the #1 problem I have with my job. Telework is not an option in my field, and it doesn’t matter if I only have 4 hours worth of work to do that day, I need to be at the office for 8. My husband’s job is the same. Luckily we are able to stagger our schedules. If I needed to work 9-5, I’d have to find a different daycare provider or invent a teleportation device in order to pick up my kids in time.

        • Yep, this was my old job. Quality of life has improved SO much now that I work someplace without the facetime culture. I’ll work an 18 hour day if it’s called for – but if I want to take 3 hours in the middle of the day to run errands on a day when I’m not so busy, no one cares.

  2. One thing that has shocked me is, in reading posts here and on the main site, is how many women don’t get to take more than 6 to 8 weeks off. I think I was living in a fantasyland where everyone got the BigLaw-esque 4-6 months, fully paid.

    In my dream world, I get 6 months off fully paid, can transition back at a pace that works for me, work only 40 hours but the job is the perfect balance of challenging and fulfilling, but can leave it at work, has on-site and/or back-up child care, and doesn’t bat an eyelash at re-arranging schedules to accommodate all the school events that seem to happen when people are at work.

    Of course, this also includes a child who sleeps through the night when I return to work and a mind-reading spouse. ;)

    • I’ve never met anyone with paid leave IRL. Everyone I know takes vacation, sick time, and then short term disability.

      • I had paid leave. 8 weeks at mid-law with first pregnancy as an associate, 12 weeks at BigLaw with second pregnancy as a partner.

    • Alice says:

      When I accepted by current position, I was shocked that there is no paid leave or short term disability in the federal government. My plan–take 6 weeks of sick leave (I’ve only averaged 1 sick day a year to build my horde), then take the 26 days of annual leave I’ve accrued by not taking vacation days for 2 years, for a grand total of about 4 months. This type of plan is very common in my office. Luckily, teleworking is an option.

      • Some federal employees can access STD through their unions, in some cases even if they aren’t union members. That might be worth looking into if your agency is unionized.

      • State government in a very liberal state. No paid leave, Short-term disability exists as an absolute safety net. What they luckily allow you to do is basically work 100% but receive a reduced pay percentage, banking those hours for your leave. You can use only 6-8 weeks of sick time for this leave with vacation and banked hours after it. They will let you work unpaid, but… unpaid. You are only eligible for short-term disability once you have used up all available sick and vacation time and ours pays out 50% of your pay period for 6-8 weeks post-delivery, max.

        I haven’t taken a sick day in the full 2.5 years since I’ve worked here and have banked 80% of my vacation time… and I’m not even expecting!! My goal is to be able to take 6 months leave; however, I’m starting to think I’d rather do 5 months of leave and then come back at 80% (4 days a week) for a little while… I know people who have done this and the downside is that you still have to do 100% of your job, just without the face time requirement or pay level.

        • Ugh, this is making me realize I need to bank all my vacation time next year so I can at least get 4 weeks paid before I have to go down to 50% with STD (supposedly its 60%, but they max out at $4K a month so…)

    • Cdn lawyer says:

      Move to Canada ;)

    • Burgher says:

      I was ready to leave my current job and then found out I was pregnant a few days before I got a formal offer. I decided to stay put for the health benefits and paid 6 weeks of STD + 1 week of mat leave they offer. Everyone I’ve talked to thinks that it is a really great and generous policy! The other company could not offer me anything other than the legally required unpaid leave. Even though it was probably the right decision for my family and financial stability, I still feel like it was the wrong decision for me overall. I feel totally stuck and am counting down the days until I go on leave.

  3. I think I surprise people when I say how great my big-law associate gig has worked out for me as a mom. My son is two-years-old now. The big perks have been (1) the salary that allows us to have my husband stay at home, (2) the 22 week maternity leave with the option to take up to an additional year off and/or come back to full-time gradually, and (3) the flexibility to telecommute or work off-hours when needed. My firm also offers some nice perks like back up childcare, discounts on after school programs, and a partnership that for the most part is very mindful of the needs of attorneys with kids.

    That’s not to say I don’t find myself burning the midnight oil , dreading work travel, and stressing out about the latest client crisis from time to time, but I know I’m very lucky nonetheless.

    I was a teacher before I went to law school, and I know that job would have been far less flexible and did not have the perks I mentioned (it was about 1/4th the salary and offered only 6 weeks maternity leave for starters…)

    • Maddie Ross says:

      Mid, not Big, law and I have had the same experience. The billable hour is extremely flexible when you have a firm that allows it to be. I didn’t have as long a maternity leave and only dream about firm-provided backup care, but the fact that I can telecommute or rearrange my schedule when needed has been wonderful. I’ve often thought about going in-house, but honestly with a small child, I think the law firm experience is better for me. (Oh, and totally the same thoughts about dreading work travel, but I think that’s the case with any job at all.)

    • Agreed. I’m in a smaller office of a large firm and it’s been wonderful and very family-friendly. The vast majority of associates have young families and most the partners have kids and/or are involved with their families. I love the flexibility that I have regarding working from home or leaving early, as long as I get my stuff done. There are firms out there that are good family options.

  4. To me, a truly family friendly job would be 40 hours a week, with flexibility to work from home and no strict face time requirements, plus a generous paid family leave benefit. Back-up daycare would be icing on the cake.

    As a federal government attorney, I work 40 hours with a small amount of flexibility and pretty strict facetime requirements, but those things vary widely from office to office in the government. The major downside for all federal employees is no paid family leave. It’s really tough because I used all my annual and sick leave after my baby was born, so now if I’m sick, I’m pretty much SOL, and we have a lot of family members who have never met the baby because we don’t have enough leave to travel to our home states.

    • hoola hoopa says:

      I have the position described in your first paragraph minus the generous paid leave and agree. I work for a genuinely family-friendly employer and thank my lucky stars everyday.

      I’d only add predictability or ability to see down the pipeline far enough to plan for busy times or adjust for urgent timelines. I add that because my husband’s job is flexible on paper but in practice short term deadlines pop up out of nowhere and cause all sorts of childcare headaches.

      Icing on the cake is being understanding about sick leave when a child is too sick to go to school. It’s psychologically so incredibly valuable to have people cover as needed, take an unexpected remote work day in stride, or not blink when – in the most dire circumstances – a child watches shows on a tablet with earphones under a desk for an hour or two. I attribute that to most of my coworkers being not only working parents themselves but also having working partners – so nearly everyone has ‘been there’.

      • Anonyc says:

        Late to the game but yes: working with people who understand the sick kids situation is huge. I’m in government, there is no work-from-home option, pretty crummy leave (unless you’ve been there forever and have tons of leave built up–not me), and I feel like I am perpetually on HR’s radar for semi-frequently using leave without pay to cover kids emergencies (this week: kids had no school for Election Day but I had work, and then one kid’s school had an emergency and unexpected closure for the rest of the week–GAH).

        Thankfully my boss is pretty good about my (what feels like constantly) needing to duck out to cover. Still, I’m never going to get any leave built up and school vacations give me palpitations because we are constantly scrambling for coverage. It is this stress that is giving me all the grays I’m suddenly finding… And why I’m lobbying hard to get my parents to move nearby.

  5. eh230 says:

    I switched from mid-law niche practice to an in-house job when my oldest was 18 months. Positives for firm life were the 13 weeks of paid leave, the money and the ability to mostly disconnect during leave. The negatives, face time plus extra hours at night and weekends, the “mom” penalty of being seen as not working as hard, never taking days off. Positives for in-house life: way less of a face time requirement that allows the ability to go to school functions, etc, the ability to work from home with sick kids or during a snow storm, no mom penalty even though not everyone has kids, plenty of vacation time (though I am still too busy to take it), less stress since there is no billable hour requirement. Negatives: money and bureaucracy, less maternity leave, worked during labor and still checked email daily during leave.

  6. Spirograph says:

    I don’t think my company is particularly family friendly and I don’t love my job, but it’s a lot better than the one I had a year ago. The Fortune article linked in the post suggests talking to your management before starting a full scale job search if you find yourself in a bad spot, and that worked out really well for me. It took a few months, but I was able to lateral to a position with fewer time-sensitive requirements at a location much closer to home. I also now have a flex time option: I need to work an average of 40 hours/week, but I can front load or make up hours throughout the month. There is basically no chance for part time or telework, though, and that’s what I’d really like. I would take 50% of my salary for 20 hours/week in a heartbeat. I’m currently in government contracting and trying to figure out how to escape and go full private sector; that seems to be where the real flexibility is.

  7. I’m in a job that’s pretty dang family-friendly, and it’s because I’m an administrator at a high school — so people here “get” kids. It also helps that I’m head of my own department, so I can set the tone and culture (work-from-home is a-ok, flexible in/out times, etc.). We have a generous sick leave policy but the downside is that there’s no real paid maternity leave — people have to cobble their time off together from sick days, vacation and/or short term disability.

    The biggest family friendly perk I’ve experienced is pure flexibility: when my kid is sick or when they have an appointment or a concert, 99% of the time it’s NBD if I’m out.

  8. I agree with everyone else that flexibility is key to a family friendly workplace. When I interviewed for my current job as an in-house lawyer at a large company, my manager noted in passing that his wife worked full time and traveled frequently so he had primary responsibility for his elementary aged kids. That was such a contrast to the model I had seen in Biglaw (male partner, SAH wife) that it made a big impression on me although I didn’t have children at the time. I thought his experience might be indicative of a flexible company culture, and that has turned out to be true. I have plenty of complaints about my job, but thankfully almost none are related to being a working mother.

  9. I guess I can’t say that my consulting company is really trying to be family friendly, and in my practice I’m the only senior practioner who doesn’t have a stay at home spouse (heck, I’m the only female with a child of any age). That being said, they were flexible in terms of my timeframe for returning to work after leave, and I have flexibility as long as I work around client commitments and travel needs (subject to just trying to get all of the hours in during the week!).

    That being said, both DH and I work, although we’re fortunate enough that my job pays enough for him not to have to (and his organization is way more flexible about people leaving and re-entering for family purposes). We toss that around everyone once in a while (after craziness on snow days, or sick days). Things generally work right now, but we have only one child. We are currently debating about #2 and I admit I’m freaked out thinking about it !

  10. How fascinating! I’m not a mom but I stumbled across this blog the other day and love it and have been reading all the entries…this one struck me because while I’m not a mother I require a lot of sick time off occasionally, and I had a similar experience in what I thought would be more “friendly” to that vs. what actually was.

    I feel like in a bigger company it’s no big deal if I need time off — in a smaller 9-5 I feel like I was “guilted” whenever I took time off and at another company, I was DEFINITELY guilted and taken off projects I wanted to work on because I used short-term disability after having a seizure. The smaller staff gave them room to say “well, we can’t rely on you, etc.” while the much bigger company played more by the rulebook in fear probably of being sued.