As I write this, I am about to head off on maternity leave. On my last official day of work, I thought I would try my hand at penning another article for Winds of Change, on a topic that I can personally relate to right now: family friendly workplace practices and their benefits.
It’s no coincidence that the Director of Change Factory, as well as the Operations Manager, both share the same surname as mine. Change Factory is a family owned and operated business - one of the biggest reasons why I enjoy working here so much. Having been involved with some of the country’s (and indeed, the world’s) major corporates, starting here was a breath of fresh air. But your organisation doesn’t need to be a family business in order to be family friendly. In fact, I’d argue that larger organisations have greater scope and opportunity to lead the way in this area. All it takes is an understanding of what your employees want/need and how to provide it to them in a way that is mutually beneficial.
It’s clear that organisations are getting on board with offering family friendly workplace practices, as shown in the table below. It’s a promising sign that employees are reporting the introduction and availability of these in their organisation, and to see that growth from 2004 through to 2008.
There is a lot of talk about work-life balance and about organisations wanting to offer their employees work-life balance, in an effort to meet their personal needs and hopefully retain their top talent. But when the time comes to deliver on that promise, some organisations just can’t (or won’t) and this is disappointing.
One employee, let’s call her Jill, went on maternity leave with the view of returning to work after a year. Her company’s maternity leave policy supported this timing, and stated that she would be returned to her role as a Project Manager, or an equivalent position. Jill was well liked and a consistently good performer. But having a baby changed her outlook on her career, and her priority was now her family. Jill approached her employer well in advance of the 12 month return to work date, to explore flexible work options such as job sharing, part time work, or working from home. She was told that they could not support her returning to work for any less than 4 days a week. The only other option was to retain her as a contractor, and call on her skills when major projects required extra manpower. After a few months of fluctuating between no work (and therefore no income) and mountains of work that resulted in long work days and long work weeks, Jill gave up on her dream of balancing her work and personal lives and left her employer, which was a big loss to them.
Providing family friendly workplace practices is not about giving employees whatever they want, whenever they want. It’s about recognising the shift in attitudes to work (work to live, not live to work) and that employees have a life outside of work.
Whilst the benefits to the employee are clear, so too are the benefits to the organisation. According to the Leadership, Employment and Direction (L.E.A.D) Survey, leaders, managers and employees are universal in their agreement that the following positives are gained from offering family friendly policies and practices:
Of course, the level and types of family friendly workplace practices offered will depend on a number of things, such as the employee’s role and whether the organisation has enough resource to support flexible work options. But there is no reason why organisations can’t review their current policies - and consider new initiatives - with recognition of the need for work-life balance, and the need for some to prioritise their family.
And thanks to my boss for allowing me to do just that.
References: Leadership Management Australasia (2010). A Decade of L.E.A.D. Looking Forward, Looking Back. Australia: LMA. p62-63.