Success in the future will be achieved by organisations that create a culture of support for employees through the different seasons of their lives – beyond just supporting the traditional employee life-cycle to supporting their “real-life” cycle.
This is one of three blogs looking at shifts in mindsets, behaviours and cultures required for future-proofing businesses. The two other blogs around future proofing businesses – are creating a culture of healthy boundaries so individuals are empowered to respect and give space to the things that matter most to them in life and creating a culture of collaboration across boundaries.
Being ambitious, millennials (the generation dominating the workforce over the next ten years) are likely to be experiencing the intensity of job pressures and leadership at the same time that they are experiencing the most intense periods of family life – setting up house together, starting a family and looking after ageing parents.
Traditionally, organisations have viewed employee support through the single lens of the employee life cycle – attraction, recruitment, induction, promotion, career progression etc. However, the more integrated our lives become, the more socially responsible and financially wise it becomes for employers to support employees through their “real life” cycles – young adulthood/singleness, marriages and partnerships, having/not having children, the frantic years of juggling the responsibility of raising children while pursuing dual careers, relationship challenges, financial challenges, health/mental health challenges, empty-nest syndrome, looking after ageing parents and all different versions of “real-life”.
As one CEO summed it up:
“whatever is going on in an employees life, is going on“.
Not talking about it doesn’t make it go away.
The more people are supported through their real-life experiences, the less editing of themselves that needs to take place and the more present and productive they can be.
The world of work has changed significantly and so the way we support employees to be well while they work, wherever and whenever they work, has to change as well. This is particularly true for employees whose creativity and innovation are the main output for the organisation. But this can only happen if we open up the conversation, cross the perceived personal / professional divide and support the whole person in achieving their definition of work/life balance in order to enjoy optimum wellbeing and productivity in every sphere of life.
As Amstad et al highlighted in their research on work-family conflict (2011), there are more dual-earner couples juggling family responsibilities, more people working part-time to help facilitate the juggle, more people commuting longer hours and more single parents shouldering responsibilities at work and home. Amongst other reasons, these create a more challenging environment for combining work and family life and therefore demand more creative responses from employers to support personal relationships through these changing times.
The research on Relationship Breakdown and the Workplace highlighted that we still have some way to go with this. In the limited instances where employers were aware of their people suffering relationship difficulties at home, they had no effective solutions. Most did nothing. The next popular solution offered was time off.
Recent research from McKinsey confirmed that when employers support employees, particularly dual-working couples, through the “rush hour” years of climbing the career ladder while raising a family, they emerge successful, happy and more loyal to their employer. As always, there is a bottom line benefit to investing in the things that matter to employees so they can “play full on” and give the best of themselves at work.
Having more supportive policies is a great start…
However, seeing these policies endorsed and lived out, especially by the leaders, is what will actually make change happen. People need to feel safe to talk about, ask for and seek the support they need. Otherwise, as is often the case with relationship difficulties for example, employees only reach for the counselling offered as part of employee benefits packages when it is too little, too late. Many companies have policies to offer paternity leave but there is still hesitation in taking this up because of these Dads’ concerns around how they will be perceived and the potential impact on their career progression (welcome to the world of women, men! But that’s another story for another time!).
This will remain unchanged until it is modelled, supported and encouraged from the top.
It all starts at the top…
To future-proof businesses for the next generation and beyond, companies need to achieve behaviour changes and a culture shift that produces leaders who inspire employees and potential employees through the work/life balance they are able to create in their own lives, their own ability to build and maintain strong relationships and the ease with which they talk about and live as their authentic selves. Otherwise the “real” expectations will leak out through silent cues when family life is not mentioned, comments “in jest” about non-work activity and traditional approaches to long hours and weekend work that live on. Or when evaluation, reward and promotion processes confirm that being full time, office based and available for work around the clock is the definition of productivity and success.
Even now there are many professional services firms that give all the lip service to diversity, inclusion, and gender equality, yet their women have learnt not to speak about childcare or other personal commitments. Firstly because no one else does and secondly, for fear that they will miss out on key projects and promotions.
Millennials have been accused of being distracted, unsettled and a risky investment because they end up changing job roles every two years.
But maybe it’s not just about them. Maybe it’s about the existing cultures that prevent them from finding a corporate home that supports an integrated, healthy, well-rounded life and respects the boundaries and relationships important to them.
The onus is on organisations to create the cultures and behaviours that recognise and support people through life, looking after the “whole person” and not forcing an artificial personal / professional divide.
Our key message to corporates is that investing in building stronger relationship capability helps their people better manage the intersection of the boundaries of work and home life, strengthen their personal relationships, improve their emotional health & wellbeing and increase their productivity. Developing this as a proactive strategy for people development, especially in industries characterised by high pressure, long hours and extended travel is both financially wise and socially responsible.
When captains of industry take the lead in strengthening personal relationships as a key part of wellbeing and productivity, everybody will pay attention and as momentum builds, everyone wins. More couples will have more mutually satisfying relationships that support them in turning up to work as their best selves and more children will have parents who create more stable environments for healthy growth. Not only will employees enjoy the many benefits of work/life balance but employers will see the returns in their ability to attract and keep key talent, reduce stress, minimise relationship breakdown, increase productivity and improve bottom line results.
When we get this right as a nation, we stem the tide on this trend to increasing mental health issues and suicide rates and create a much healthier, more productive and more engaged workforce now… and for the future.
If ever there was a worthwhile strategy for sustainability and future-proofing work, this has got to be it.