In today’s workforce, juggling family and work demands is no longer the sole responsibility of the staff member.
With shifting demographics in the workplace, most notably, that the number of women and men in the workforce are nearly equal, the corporation that wishes to succeed now has to get involved.
According to US psychologist Diane Halpern at Claremont McKenna College, 66 per cent of married women with a child under two now work outside the home, compared to a generation ago, when just 18 per cent of mothers with children under one year were employed.
Women are catching up and surpassing men in many so-called traditionally male occupations. Halpern observes in her report, published in the American Psychologist, that women today are more likely to be formally educated and hold managerial jobs than men.
More women are obtaining university degrees in professions such as law and medicine, once considered exclusively male preserves. For example, women comprise half the medical and law school grads and 78 per cent of veterinary-school graduates in the US. Women are obtaining 63 per cent of all doctorates in health sciences and 44 per cent of all doctorates in biological and life sciences.
So, what happens when these bright, educated, competent young women want to have families? The baby boomers will be retiring or cutting back (by 2010, 20 per cent of all workers in the US will be 60 or older). Meanwhile, employers have become increasingly dependent on these capable young women’s skills. If the organization is stuck in the past and considers family-friendly work environments a frill or responsibility of the worker, it will flounder.
Smart companies will adapt and bring in programs and policies that highlight work-family-personal balance. And the successful ones will have to blend work and family demands seamlessly to retain and attract highly skilled female talent.
Men, too, may demand more from companies in this regard. However, experience shows that women take on the majority of the child-rearing functions and will want support to carry out their dual roles.
This will be of benefit to the workplace and society as a whole. Research shows that children are not harmed by having two working parents. In fact, a lack of financial well-being is more harmful to children than living in a home where both parents work.
Research indicates that a child whose mother works outside the home will demonstrate greater academic achievement and fewer behavioural problems such as smoking, early sexual intercourse, alcohol and marijuana use and risky behaviours in general.
Fathers of children growing up in dual-income homes do more housework and are more involved at home than their fathers were. Children with involved fathers experience less likelihood of smoking cigarettes and drug and alcohol use. They tend not to drop out of school, show better school attendance, less risky behaviour, and have higher college aspirations and are more likely to grow into compassionate adults.
But is it really the employer’s job to help parents raise the next generation? Some may well ask why companies should be responsible for staff’s procreative choices.
The answer is, they can’t afford not to be involved if they wish to attract and retain staff and cut costs. For example, Halpern estimates that unscheduled absences of one to five days cost employers approximately four per cent of their payroll per year. This works out to $1760.00 per employee earning $40,000 per year. Payroll costs are exacerbated by reductions in production and decreased customer service due to sudden absences.
Since these absences are usually due to breakdowns in childcare arrangements, staying home with sick kids or a crisis with elderly parents, creating time flexible work policies, work-from-home programs and the like could result in savings to the employer. Even if these costs are reduced by one fourth, that means a $440.00 savings per year per employee.
Halpern notes that when companies give employees time off to care for sick family members or provide staff with the ability to choose when to start and stop their workdays, fewer workdays are missed and staff put in a full day. They are more loyal and committed to the employer. They work harder for the organization, especially when meeting deadlines. They show fewer signs of stress and are more satisfied at work.
Organizations serious about partnering with staff who care for children and elderly parents will become increasingly creative. They will try to help staff get everything done, at work and at home.
This will mean not only instituting flex-time and other family-friendly programs, but bringing in a new approach to team work and redefining personal time versus work time. Although not every company will have the resources, organizations could consider bringing in laundry services, housekeeping and car washing as well as grocery shopping or meal services to help overloaded parents and caregivers. Company daycares or after school programs, on-site nursing and tutors may be the answer to working-family demands.
The definition of “professional conduct” will change too. Scheduling children’s soccer or dance practices beside department meetings, taking calls from children or elderly parents throughout the day or collecting kids from school will become more acceptable and normal. Peeling the potatoes for supper in the staff kitchen or chatting with customers over the phone while unloading the dishwasher will seem like business as usual.
The world of work and home will become amalgamated in the future and the separation between the two spheres will probably become a thing of the past. And companies employing the next generation can hardly afford to stay stuck in the past.
Dr. Jennifer Newman and Dr. Darryl Grigg are registered psychologists and directors of Newman & Grigg Psychological and Consulting Services Ltd., a Vancouver-based corporate training and development partnership. They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Identifying information in cases cited has been changed to protect confidentiality.