During the school holidays I have been fortunate enough to enjoy a great blend of time with my son, time working with clients, time working on the business and some time to use as I chose, for myself. All in varying proportions. My son equally had time with his father, time with his friends, time with his grandparents and time for himself to explore pursuits of his own. It took planning, co-ordination and some juggling. It all worked out well. But there have been times when it wasn’t so seamless and there are likely to be times when I’ll need to think differently again about how I plan for and accomplish meeting differing needs. It got me thinking about the options available for juggling work and family life for employers and employees.
I Googled the definitions of ‘family friendly working’ and was directed to research from Working Families and DirectGov.UK. In the 2019 Modern Families Index they quote that there are 6.2 million couple households with dependent children in the UK and 1.7 lone-parent families. Employment rates for mothers was a staggering 74%, which has only increased 5.1% over the last 5 years. And, employment rates for both women and men with dependent children were higher than for those without. So that’s 13 million working parents (employed and self-employed). For more information about how those statistics play out in other areas I’d urge you to take a look at the report. It’s an interesting read.
From this research, I learned parents working in SME’s were slightly more likely than those in larger organisations, to work flexibly. I found myself asking again, whether the statutory requirements truly facilitate and create family friendly working practices that reflect the real underlying needs of employer/employee responsibilities? The advice I found at DirectGov.UK seems largely to reflect changing working patterns, childcare and supporting ideas for time off. It seems primarily targeted at supporting women into work and motivated by reducing the Gender Pay gap. All good stuff. But it doesn’t go far enough for me. So, here are some thoughts and ideas for striking a ‘give and take’ balance that create a stronger platform for harmonising work and home in our ever-changing, seemingly overly busy lives.
1. Set clear expectations and boundaries.
There are balances to be struck. As an HR consultant I see employers start off very generously and then perhaps one employee took a little too much for granted or let the team down due to some bad planning, resulting in the removal of generosity for all. With clear boundaries and a direct, constructive dialogue, you can limit the impact on the business and other team members, when things don’t go according plan, without being punitive.
2. Support employees to plan for what they need
From my own experience I can remember missing a sports day early on in my son’s school career. It wasn’t a big deal at the time, but I learned very quickly that my back-up plan, needed a back-up plan! I learned from it and I schedule commitments differently now. So, help people to plan what they need in their personal lives, for themselves, as well as their work schedule or shift patterns, and you’ll be giving them prioritisation and planning skills they can also apply in your business. You’ll also gain some very loyal employees.
3. Observe the statutory obligations as a minimum standard
If you Google’ family friendly’ you’ll find around 2, 620 000 000 results and they’re mainly products and services to entice people into something leisurely with their families. Restaurants, theme parks, holiday resorts, experiences, I could go on! Yet when we think family friendly at work, we don’t think about how to enhance their work experience, we think about how to limit disruption. I wonder why employees might think we’re no fun?!
So, when you’re building your Family Friendly suite, don’t focus on limits, think about needs of the customer and the needs of the employees who serve those customers. People who feel valued and appreciated, working in ways that support them, will create valued and appreciated customers. Those customers create a stronger business which means a more certain employment future and that cycle continues. It’s a no brainer then, to help the people who are serving your customers feel like they are encouraged to enjoy their personal lives, as those are the people you’ll retain, content to give their best to your customers.
4. Include well-being in your Family Friendly thinking
Caring for an elderly relative, supporting a sick spouse, becoming a new parent, adjusting to new school arrangements, researching Universities, responding to special care needs, going through divorce, among many other needs, all evoke emotional stress over and above practical, logistical demands. This eats personal energy, not just time. So, when you’re thinking Family Friendly, think about supporting transitions, think family life as a whole, and therefore what support you can help signpost people to, dependent on their circumstances, that also encourages self-care. A change in work patterns/flexible working may well help, but it may not be enough on its own.
5. Train your line managers to be open-minded and supportive
So many times, I have witnessed an escalation that could have been prevented with some education for, and empathy from, the first line manager. Think about this example. A young ambitious, keen, productive, supervisor welcoming a maternity returner back to work. They worked well together before she went off on maternity leave. Her needs and perspectives are likely to be different now versus then. Alternatively, the grieving widow who returns to work and just isn’t quite themselves anymore, perhaps they’ve been a little late a few times or they’ve struggled to focus recently and made some mistakes. A little guidance, some simple processes, empathy and awareness training that creates perspective sharing, can ensure all strong performers, stay productive team members in the long run.
We know there are some fabulous employers out there who are really innovative and caring and as a result, create great workplaces. Some of them are our much-loved clients that we support with ideas based on their business requirements and people needs.
We’d love to hear about your experiences of creating workplaces that deliver great results by balancing employee and employer needs and if you could use some ideas, we’d love to see how we can help. Contact us to find out more here or to arrange a no-obligation, free initial consultation.