The onset on the long school Summer holidays presents many parents and employers with increased “work–family conflict” as parents juggle childcare with work and employers juggle multiple requests for employee leave. This conflict is an increasingly critical issue in today’s workplace. For employees, it’s linked to negative outcomes such as mental, behavioural and physical health risks, poor sleep quality, depression, burnout, workplace safety issues, obesity, and addictive behaviours e.g. smoking and alcohol use. For employers work–family conflicts are related to turnover, sick leave, well-being, and engagement and as such are linked to productivity. In a groundbreaking paper, Ellen Ernst Kossek (et al) describe the development of the most comprehensive work–family organisational change initiative to date in the United States. It targeted multiple levels of change, building on pilot studies that focused on:
a. Increasing employees’ control over their work schedules and a focus on results, not time.
b. Increasing work–family social support through manager behaviour training.
Change requires a shift in focus from individual strategies that tackle negative outcomes such as stress management toward prevention focused organisational change initiatives to reduce work–family conflict in organisations. These could include big shifts such as the introduction of flexi-time and more subtle changes such as more managers working collaboratively with team members to solve schedule conflicts and managers role modelling how they manage their own work/life conflicts.
Such a strategic approach offers a massive opportunity for competitive advantage.
What if all workplaces were designed to support employees’ work and family needs and reduce conflicts – how much more productive could we be? How much could we save by reducing the negative outcomes? And, as it’s still women that take the brunt of this work-family conflict over the Summer holiday period, how many more women would remain engaged and go on to reach leadership positions?
Ellen Ernst Kossek wlc 2014