Virtual Baby: The Holiday Gift for Every Employee on Your List

benefits equity

The news is out about gift giving, and apparently...we're all terrible at it. According to The Atlantic, we're really bad; ugly sweater bad; trash-bin-in-a-bow bad; $70-million-in-returned-gifts bad.

The news isn't all terrible, however. If you're talking employees, there's one thing pretty high up on everybody's wish list: work/life balance.

The Virtual Baby and the Gift of Benefits Equity

There's no single formula for balance (or integration... or, if you will, sanity). Certainly there are givens. Elder care is an issue. Child care is an issue. And globally, people seems to agree that dependent care is a must.

But personal conflicts occur for those without dependents. And when the boss doesn't recognize them equitably, this happens.

The Secret of Benefits Equity

Which leads us to the virtual baby. Sometime back, Lucy English, of Horizons Workforce Consulting, heard someone suggest the idea at a conference. She explained the concept this way:

"It's an avatar, if you will, that represents whatever responsibilities might require flexibility at the office.  Yours may be an actual baby; mine might be training for a marathon; Laura's might be volunteering at the pet shelter; Andrew's might be mentoring to a local teen."

As Lucy put it, all responsibilities (children, marathon, volunteer work, pets) are perfectly relevant "dependents," she says. "They're just couched under a symbol that makes them all equal."

Why would you want a virtual baby?

Five simple reasons: 

  • It levels the playing field for everyone in the organization: no one group feels slighted.
  • It offers equitable acceptance for all priorities outside of work: all issues are created equal.
  • It means working parents and others feel they can be honest about their responsibilities: no need to come up with a story, as parents in our MFI told us they often did.
  • It avoids resentment: no strife between those who have dependents and those who don't.

A Work/Life Strategy By Any Other Name

Obviously, you don't have to call it a virtual baby. The more important thing is that you back it up with actions, meaning when an employee says, "I have to leave," they go, no questions asked. The flip side is that it's the employee's responsibility to meet deadlines. Truly supportive cultures build employees who get their work done.

"There may be those leaders that say this is fiction," wrote Dan. "They say work won't get done if everyone is dealing with their personal lives on company time." But that's exactly the point, he says. They're not.

"By allowing people to deal with what they need to deal with - and by helping them with the things you can help with you're all but ensuring they will live up to their end of the bargain; that they will unequivocally be there when you need them."

Work/life balance? Benefits equity? Those are gifts nobody's going to return.
three happy employees working together

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Written by: Lisa Oppenheimer

About the Author

Lisa Oppenheimer at Bright Horizons

As Director, Brand Storytelling at Bright Horizons, Lisa writes “from the trenches” about the real life challenges of people in today’s workplaces: from the tensions of being a working mother, to working with millennials in the digital age, and everything in between. With a career ranging from freelance to full-time, Lisa brings a diverse employment background to her perspective.