Dads at work – it’s time to stand up and be counted!

2 August 2011

Jeremy Davies writes:

Men and Work-Life Integration: A Global Study is a really interesting paper by US human resources consultants WFD Consulting, which should be required reading for people who work in HR in the UK – and for dads who work…especially in senior roles.

 The paper is based on a survey of more than 2,000 employees working for large (500-plus employees) companies in six countries: Brazil, China, India, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States (the sample was balanced for gender and age). The survey, conducted in late 2010, set out to address two questions:

• How can organisations remove the stereotypes and barriers that prevent men from using work-life options (flexible working and the like)?

• What prevents leaders and managers — who often are men — from supporting the use of work-life options by others?

Here’s what the report authors found:

1. Men and women are not so different after all

The gender stereotype that men derive their identities largely from work, and women largely from family and relationships, was not supported by the study. For the most part, men and women reported comparable work identity and personal/family identity. Work identification appears to be much higher in emerging markets. Both sources of identity were highly correlated with employee engagement in the emerging markets.

Recommendations:

The assumption that a key source of male identity is rooted in work and not in family and relationships, and that the opposite is true for women, is a major impediment to the effective integration of employees’ work and personal lives. Crucially, the report’s authors suggest that it is men who need to take the lead in debunking these myths that are so deeply embedded in our culture.

2. We’re all stressed about time and money

Employees are deeply stressed about financial issues and they are experiencing the consequences of the time famine.

Recommendations:

Financial issues are a major source of stress, not just for the employee, but for spouses and partners and especially children. A growing number of employees look to their employers for financial advice, particularly assistance with retirement planning and basic financial guidance. Employees who experience financial stress spend part of their time on-the-job addressing their financial concerns. A major way companies now assist employees with financial issues is through employee assistance programs, the use of which has been increasing.

What more is needed?

• more and better courses and seminars on financial issues and connecting employees to local financial counselling services

• work by HR departments on making the business case to leaders for using flexible work options to reduce costs and retain critical talent

• emphasis on building resilience (the ability to tolerate and recover from, stress) among individuals and organizations

• focus on addressing the time famine by providing employees with more control over how, when and where they work

• new, more robust ways to educate managers on flexibility and encourage leaders to support it.

3. Leaders’ attitudes need to change

While the business case for work-life has been made, a large number of employees believe they have been punished for using work-life benefits or are fearful they would be. Furthermore, the attitudes of many leaders toward those who make use of work-life benefits are antiquated.

Recommendations:

The study reveals a fundamental contradiction: leaders endorse the business case but are reluctant to put it into action. The authors suggest that while we may have succeeded in defining the benefits of work-life, we just haven’t convinced leaders that the benefits exceed the risks involved in implementation. Perceptions of risk are high because many leaders simply do not have a concrete view of how work-life and, in particular, flexibility and work innovation (redesigning how, when and where work is accomplished), really operate.

So – we need to encourage leaders who have experienced and embraced work-life to go on record in a compelling way. Not just executives, but leaders at all levels.

Similarly, to convince leaders of the efficacy of supporting workers throughout the career life cycle, we have assembled an imposing array of facts and figures. Yet, judging by leaders’ attitudes, numbers alone are not sufficient. To help others truly feel the benefits of work-life requires us to recount the benefits of experiencing work-life, of having found a place of integration between work and life or, more profoundly, the suffering of not achieving that integration. The authors point out that most white-collar workers use flexibility, whether it is going to a doctor’s appointment or attending a school play, without taking official time off, and manage their own work-life integration to a greater or lesser degree. Individuals, especially executives, need to tell these stories – of how they are achieving work-life integration and the regrets they have experienced when they have not achieved it; and they must engage others to tell their stories too, and be prepared to listen to them.

Given the deep and complex challenges that many executives are facing, it is perhaps surprising that they have time to support work-life at all. Most executives would say they are committed to work-life integration, however, they just might say it is pretty far down the priority list. How do we move work-life issues up the list? Not by campaigning for work-life balance but by starting with the business challenges and finding ways of using work-life balance to respond to those challenges – and in ways that keep us ahead of the competition.

So…what can we do about it?

You can read the report in full here.

The report’s authors conclude that men and women seek the same holy grail: success in both their work and personal lives. It’s time, they say, to lay to rest the notion that these are women’s issues only, and focus on individualizing workplaces to support business objectives and personal goals.

What can YOU do to make this happen? How can WE help? If you’re a MAN with experiences of work-life balance to share, are you ready to tell YOUR story?! How else could you bring about change?

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