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Family and work

Family and work seem to be in conflict. Family is one of the main sources of happiness and fulfilment. When looking back at their life, dying people often state that they regret not having spent enough time with family and friends and to have worked too much. Indeed, there is a friction between work and other roles as time is limited. People have to divide time across the different roles like work, family, volunteering, friends, hobbies. And of course there are some tendencies that seem to portray work as a role that prohibits people from taking on other valuable life roles.

  • There is more choice than ever. People have increased activities outside of work.This leads to fragmentation of life, with work becoming one fragment.
  • Work has become more intensive, and the barriers between work and private life have faded.
  • Family life has become more complicated. The rate of divorce and newly composed families has increased.
  • Dual career families face challenges to cope with the caring role
  • As life expectancy has increased, employees see themselves faced with having to care for both children and parents.

Helping People to lead their Life

Not so long ago, companies thought that it was right for employees to leave their family business behind when entering the gates of the company. People came to work and companies were only interested in the active components of the employee. These were competencies, engagement and productivity. It’s clear that the emotional state of mind of employees influence these active components. Family life plays an important role in that emotional state. So this is why companies should be interested in family. Even more. Companies should actively look for ways to help people to lead their lives. Including their family life.
There are 4 ways to do that:

    1. Accomodation

Provide accommodation that alleviates some of the worries people have. This may include child care, health services, extra child allowances, … Accommodation makes live more easy and are binding. Unfortunately these forms of accommodation are usually not related to the work itself and does not solve the problem of alienation.

    1. Flexibilise Work

Change the organisation of work. By providing work flexibility a company can help people to combine family and work life. Flexible hours or telework are common ways to help people to allocate time to the family role. Flexible work patterns change the very organisation of work, but do not change the work content or the friction between work and family itself. At best, this approach makes it easier. It accommodates.

    1. Results-Only-Work Environments: ROWE

Giving responsibility to people in the execution of their work, by not focussing on time and place of work, give people the feeling of ownership. They become entrepreneurs and the work becomes more interesting. People are free to decide what, when and how much work is done as long as contractual expectations have been met. The focus here lies on getting the results. This is based on trust. The disadvantage of this approach is that people risk to work too much and neglect their family. The main difference is that they will feel responsible for it and not blame their employer. This sounds a little manipulative, and that’s why employers who introduce these cultural changes, should address the need to spend enough time outside of work. To many employers this turns to to be a dilemma, or a conflict of interest. An employer has an interest in keeping employees at work as long as possible. But here’s a question. Is this sustainable?

    1. Balanced-Results-Oriented-Work-Environments : BROWE

The paradox of success is that people who overinvest in work are likely to end up in trouble. This is divorce, loss of contact with their children and end up regretting this at the end of their life. So instead of talking about ROWE (Results-only work environments), we should talk about BROWE. Balanced results oriented Work environments. Balanced, because there is a keen focus on keeping a balance between work and other life roles. And I prefer results-oriented rather than results-only because work is more than getting results. I dread the word results only because this creates an environment that has no mercy or kindness. Results are important, but also the way you get results is important. So there’s a big need for balancing. An employer cannot forget his responsibility in this. He should nudge people towards that balance.

BROWE as preferred model of employer support for family life

Accommodation is in itself OK. It’s a start to become more family friendly. But a company can go further. Let’s not think that individualizing work will do the trick. ROWE is a progress but entails a risk. An employer should help people to keep balance. This will add to the sustainability of work. This will lead to sustainable employability. More than accommodation, BROWE will give people the experience that the company cares about its employees. And that it is willing to help them to find balance in their lives.
See also : Leslie A. Perlow & Erin L. Kelly. Toward a Model of Work Redesign for Better Work and Better Life. Work and Occupations February 2014, vol. 41 no. 1 111-134. This article compares accommodation with work flexibility arrangements and ROWE. I believe we should take it a step further and introduce BROWE.

David Ducheyne is the founder of Otolith. As a former HR and business leader he focuses now on humanising strategy execution.

One Comment

  • Helen says:

    Don’t forget regular chair massage in the workplace. This plays an important role towards making employees feel appreciated and happy, which means they are more likely to be happier at home home, i.e less conflict with family, after a rejuvenating massage at work.

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