Work & Family Month - Do We Need It?
When it comes to bringing attention to causes and important issues, I'm all for it. With exceptions.
October is National Work and Family Month with outreach efforts underway to elevate discussions on this topic. The question is...do we need it?
Work and Family Isn't New
Work and family (I prefer work/life) isn't a new issue. Employees have been struggling with these issues for years -- no, decades. Sure, progress has been made in some areas, yet are we undermining the broader need to change how business does business by making it a "special focus" for 31 days? Seems as though new issues or novel ones (e.g. Cookie or Sarcastic Month) may need 30 or 31 days of focus, but not those that have been relevant for years. Or at least they shouldn't.
For virtually every employee -- working parents caring for a child with special needs, boomers caring for an aging parent, singles whose job may require significant travel, the realities of trying to integrate work and life is a daily struggle and has been since the 70s...if not earlier. Maybe not for CEOs or those with access to resources and supports when needed, but it is for almost everyone else.
Progress Made Yet More Needed
Work/life is real life. And real life is messy. It's unpredictable, upending even those with contingency plans because many times, those contingency needs last far longer than a few hours. They often last for many months or years. And this creates a ripple effect at home and work, often closely followed by difficult decisions and choices.
Paid parental leave and flexible work options are gaining traction and some companies are even going further by providing more individualized assistance to employees. Still, in many companies, the work/life issue remains a one-off situation or an inconvenience to be handled vs. being integral to how their business operates. Changing leadership mindset and corporate culture, integrating policies and programs into the workplace to support diverse employee needs, and recognizing the need for flexibility in solutions are three areas where the need for progress remains.
Employee Needs Take Priority
No longer can companies expect to recruit and retain valued employees by routinely demanding 10-hour workdays or refusing to allow employees to adjust their schedules as needed. For many, these issues are deal breakers. Companies can either recognize these needs early on (i.e. now) or can hear about them during exit interviews.
No longer can companies provide perks (what I call "niceties") vs. offering benefits ("necessities") to assuage the growing discontent as employee engagement plummets and employees continue to struggle with the complexities of life. For many, it's becoming virtually impossible and the impact on families, marriages, finances, and health is staggering. Sure, employees are beginning to speak up and smart companies are starting to listen, yet this "listening" requires a sustained and intentional effort and focus that a single month of attention cannot provide.
Work and family month provides opportunities for companies, organizations, and advocates to raise their voices in unison. All important efforts. Yet for change to really happen, I'd like to drop the month and vote for making work/life an issue that consistently sits at the table with finance, sales, research, marketing, and every other critical business function. Because without employees, from singles in their 20s to boomers well into their 60s, it won't matter much what happens in the course of 31 days.