Flexibility and culture can only go so far. Employers need to offer help with the practicalities, says Ben Black, managing director of My Family Care.
The rubbish written about family-friendly. There’s a lot of it and it’s not particularly helpful. Fundamentally there’s nothing family-friendly about business. It’s all about products and services and margins and profits. Obviously people, to a greater or lesser extent, play a pretty important role. Pay them and give them a nice bonus and a few benefits and they’ll work harder and better? Sadly it’s a bit more complicated than that as we all know.
Actually what people want (need even) to be passionate about their work can be distilled down to three essentials. They need a bit of freedom or autonomy to do their job. They need a vague sense of direction – that’s the vision thing. And they need mastery. Not much fun doing a job you can’t actually do.
Giving people those three essentials is the golden thread of human capital management. If you really empower people to do the job you want them to do then, ipso facto, you need to give flexible working the biggest, warm embrace possible. Of course it shouldn’t matter when, where or even how people produce results. In these increasingly complicated, online times when the old distinctions between work and life have blurred into one, people will not work when or where you thought they might. In short you cannot empower people without giving them flexibility. Simple as that.
But of course there’s another huge barrier to that nirvana of perfect workplace culture. And it’s purely practical. When family or life stands in the way of work then no amount of motivation and empowerment will help. If you have young children but no childcare your work will suffer. If you need to find a carer for one of your parents then you need to find a carer. It’s a long and labyrinthine process that is often all consuming. If your nanny calls in sick you won’t make that early morning meeting…. I could go on.
Luckily there is loads that that the best employers can and do put in place to help employees solve what are essentially simple practical problems. It’s why the majority of professional services firms now have some kind of backup care scheme available to guarantee emergency childcare. It’s also why other employers will bend over backwards to help employees actually sort out their care arrangements.
So family-friendly isn’t that friendly at all. Actually it’s about performance driven environments embracing the potential of flexible working; and it’s about having some practical support in place when culture and flexibility aren’t enough. Written like that it sounds easy.