How many employers are paying attention to family responsibilities and the stressors that go along with them?
The majority of adults (especially women) in paid work also have family responsibilities. Over 70% of women with children between the ages of six and twelve now work outside of the home. During the past decade the number of women with children under three years of age has increased over 100%; now 66% of these women are working full time.
- Family structures are in transition. Only about 16% of all families in Canada have one parent working while the other parent stays home to take care of the children.
- According to statistics Canada, seniors made up 16% of the population in 2011 and seniors will be over 25% by the year 2036. The National Advisory Council on Aging reports that approximately 31% of all caregivers to the elderly are employed outside of the home.
G, one of my colleagues has a job requiring him to travel throughout North America frequently and on his infrequent weekends off, helps his mother try to navigate long term care for his father. His father’s rapid onset of dementia is wearing them both down. G told me a few horror stories about neglect and lack of care in one setting and about his frustration with the neglect of his mother’s wishes about a closer placement that she could afford.
EMPLOYERS AND THEIR RESPONSE:
Myriad family difficulties such as a childcare breakdown or a grandparent’s illness impact heavily on workplace productivity. So does the on-going round-the-clock stress experienced by most employed parents of small children. Workplaces that have traditionally separated the realms of work and family are gradually seeing that this is no longer viable. As many large corporations and many small organizations (including the non-profit sector) pilot the way, evidence and support are building that everyone benefits from family-friendly policies and attitudes in the workplace.
WHY SUPPORT WORKERS WITH FAMILY RESPONSIBILITIES?
In the 1950’s a typical one-income family spent about 40 to 45 hours per week in paid employment. Today, that time has doubled to approximately 80 hours per week. One of the most common results of the effort to maintain a reasonable standard of living and meet family responsibilities is significant stress. The unrelenting pressure of trying to balance the demands of both work and family leave workers, especially women, little time for reflection and self-assessment. Without workplace supports the alternative to dealing with the balancing act is to miss work, either with or without pay, or by leaving paid work altogether. Ultimately, without workplace support for family responsibilities, some employees face the prospect of limited career advancement.
From the employer’s perspective, the cost of hiring and training competent staff is becoming increasingly prohibitive. Keeping good employees makes good sense.
WHAT IS A FAMILY-FRIENDLY WORKPLACE?
A family-friendly workplace is one that recognizes the various and often competing roles that employees must fulfill and turns that recognition into practical support. A family-friendly workplace “begins with creating an open environment in which employees’ concerns about work/family conflicts are dealt with supportively. It means changing some of the unspoken and unwritten assumptions about organizational culture. It means listening to those most affected by family pressures describe their own needs and balancing those needs with organizational bottom lines. It means developing policies to make a practical difference.” (Canadian Cooperative Association, Family Friendly Co-ops in Canada).
Developing a family-friendly workplace requires cooperative planning by employers and employees. It does not necessarily require a great financial commitment. It does require more willingness to accommodate different needs, better communication and the opportunity to bring problems to light between employer and employee. A climate for open dialogue and a commitment to work towards a balance of work and family responsibilities are two of the most important prerequisites.
FOUR AREAS OF FAMILY-FRIENDLY POLICY
In general, there are four areas of family-friendly policy: Flexible Work Arrangements; Dependent Care; Family Related Leaves; Health and Wellness Programs
1. Flexible Work Arrangements
Flexible arrangements provide the opportunity for employees to respond to responsibilities outside of work, and this in turn alleviates stress which is otherwise carried into the workplace. Reduced hours or flexible hours mean that time spent on the job may be more relaxed and more productive, thus higher morale and job satisfaction. Some examples of flexible work arrangements are: flexible work hours (flex-time), staggered work hours, compressed work week, job-sharing, part-time work, and flexi-place (also referred to as ‘telecommuting’ or ‘telework’)
2. Dependent Care
Dependent care refers to initiatives designed to alleviate the stress experienced around finding and accessing quality, affordable care for dependents, either children or adults who are unable to live independently. Some examples of dependent or family care include: on-site or near-site childcare programs, financial care subsidies, information and referral services; and eldercare support.
3. Family-Related Leaves
Family related leaves are required by legislation. Generally, labour standards legislation determines the minimum amount of unpaid leave available to a worker in any particular area and guarantees an employee’s right to such leave, and under what conditions this leave is available. Family related leaves do a variety of things: they provide time for birth and/or bonding with new children (including adoption), definite term care for sick and elderly relatives, addressing emergency situations related to family, and attending events of importance to the family.
4. Health and Wellness Programs
The premise behind these initiatives is: when employees and their dependent family members are healthy, both physically and mentally, they are more capable of handling the stress associated with balancing work and family responsibilities. Health and wellness programs include: stress management programs; employee assistance programs, on-site fitness facilities, resource libraries on the issue of balancing work and family; lunch hour workshops on family issues, from parenting skills to retirement planning; on-site prenatal programs; special events to bring family and work together, such as kids at work, family picnics or family fairs; accessible telephones to call home to verify that children are fine, etc.
While great strides are being made in many workplace settings, there is room for on-going dialogue. Let Hi Q trainers know how your company is managing. Send us your success stories and the impact on your bottom line.
Written by J McLean, who adapted this article from Carol Matusicky, former Executive Director of the BC Council for Families 2011