Author: Charlotte Gifford
24 Sep 2020
It’s a commonly held belief that career success and a happy family life don’t come hand-in-hand. To prosper in business, a person has to sacrifice evenings with family and drop domestic responsibilities – or so goes the narrative that’s still heavily prevalent narrative within the corporate world.
But this doesn’t have to be the case. In fact, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that, when employees achieve a healthy balance between work and home, their professional life benefits.
A family-friendly work culture also benefits companies themselves. For one thing, respecting and supporting employees’ right to spend time with their families is a powerful retention tool. But it can also make employees more engaged and productive. Research conducted by the International Centre for Work Family at IESE Business School has found that people in family-friendly work environments perform up to 19 percent better than those who aren’t.
For many employers, this year’s work-from-home experiment has demonstrated the importance of allowing employees to dedicate more time to family life. Some are adapting as a result. The German company Siemens is allowing employees to work from home for up to three days a week and, according to research by the Ifo economic institute, just over half of German companies want to follow its lead. Clearly, a growing number of companies are taking this moment to improve their employees’ work-life balance. European CEO outlines five ways businesses can build a more family-friendly work environment moving forward.
As the Siemens example suggests, the coronavirus pandemic has prompted many employers to consider permanently adopting remote working practices. Studies suggest that many workers would support this. Communications consultancy the Gorssman Group has found that almost half of US employees surveyed said they wanted to continue working from home after the pandemic.
Remote working and flexible working hours could benefit parents in a number of ways, allowing them to spend more time with young children, fulfil more family obligations and also reduce childcare costs. Flexible working can be especially beneficial to women, who still end up taking on the brunt of domestic responsibilities in many families. The 2014 Corporate Leadership Council report found that workplace flexibility increased women’s career aspirations by almost 30 percent.
Switching off an “always-on” culture
However, employers should proceed with caution before embracing a flexible working culture. The pandemic has revealed that working from home can push employees to work longer hours, which in turn can increase the risk of stress and burnout. Technology is, of course, partly to blame here; according to the 2020 Modern Families Index, 47 percent of working parents believe that technology has blurred the boundaries between work and home.
There are a number of ways that companies can help their employees establish more of a work-life balance. One method could be using a business communication platform like Slack for work-related messages, instead of a more casual messaging platform like WhatsApp, to give employees the option of “switching off” once the working day is finished.
Elderly care programme
Many countries’ populations are ageing rapidly and this means an increasing proportion of employees will be faced with caring for elderly relatives at some point during their careers. This experience can be both time-consuming and emotionally draining for workers.
While the issue may seem like a very personal one, it can have a significant bearing on a person’s professional life. MetLife estimates that elderly care costs companies $34bn a year due to absenteeism and lost productivity.
By supporting employees through an elderly care programme, companies could lessen the burden of looking after older relatives. Depending on what seems appropriate, the programme could offer information about elderly care services, geriatric assessments or workplace support groups.
When it comes to work-life balance, the discussion tends to focus on women and how they can benefit from devoting more time to family. But it’s just as important that men enjoy this benefit as well.
The rate of men taking paternity leave has rapidly increased over the last few decades. Last year, the European Parliament announced the establishment of 10-day minimum paternity leave across the EU.
Firms should consider implementing longer and more robust paternity leave programmes to meet the needs of fathers-to-be. At Netflix, new fathers can take up to one year of paid parental leave. Meanwhile, Facebook gives fathers four months’ leave that can be taken in instalments in the first year of the child’s life.
When it comes to childcare, few companies offer much by way of support. According to the Society for Human Resource Management’s Employee Benefits 2019 survey, only 4 percent offer a subsidised child-care centre or programme for their employees.
Childcare has proven particularly difficult to arrange during the pandemic, when many nurseries have had to close their doors temporarily, leaving parents to cope on their own. Employers are well-[ositioned to step in to fill the vacuum, and some already have. Google, for example, extended its paid family caregiver leave policy by eight weeks in the wake of the pandemic.
Other forms of support employers can offer include discounts on childcare-related products such as car seats, toys, games and educational material. Employers could also allow a portion of employees’ salaries to go towards a car, additional holiday or other benefits.