SVP, Corporate Responsibility &
Global Chief Diversity Officer
Modern technology and the expanding global economy have erased what was once a clear delineation between the demands of the office and the responsibilities of home. The pace of work combined with professional obligations routinely impose on time that was historically dedicated to family life. The result is employees who feel stressed, frustrated and overwhelmed.
Researchers define the competing demands of career and personal life as work-family conflict. According to a study published in the American Sociological Review work-family conflict is increasingly common among U.S. workers, with about 70 percent reporting struggles with balancing work and non-work obligations. Some of the consequences are considered to be job strain, absenteeism, disengagement, sleep disturbances and decreased satisfaction. In response, the 2015 Workplace Trends Report found that many organizations are implementing formal and informal “family-friendly” provisions to help employees better manage their work and family responsibilities while simultaneously reducing work-family conflict.
Formal family-friendly provisions typically include two categories: dependent care and flexible work arrangements. Organizations can help their employees provide care to their dependents by creating pre-tax spending accounts or by providing on-site care services or information on offsite care facilities. Flexible work arrangements offer alternative work options including flextime, job-sharing, part-time, or telecommuting and are intended to help employees better balance their work deliverables and personal commitments.
However, the mere availability of formal family-friendly provisions alone cannot change underlying organizational norms and values that may undermine employee efforts to take advantage of those benefits. In other words, formal family-friendly policies may not be effective if employees perceive that their work environment does not support achieving a better balance between work and family demands. To facilitate these efforts, an organization’s norms and values must reflect the appropriate interaction between work and family life through informal family-friendly provisions such as family-supportive supervisor behaviors and a positive work-family culture.
- A family-supportive supervisor offers emotional and instrumental support to employees, role models family-friendly behaviors, and has the ability to strategically schedule to accommodate an employee’s work-family needs.
- The work-family culture informs employees of the extent to which the organization values work-family integration. Supportive work-family cultures generate norms that respect employees’ personal time, encourage use of family-friendly provisions, and ensure that supervisors are sensitive to family needs.
Family-friendly workplaces help their employees balance their work and family lives. Employees who report supportive leadership and a positive work-family culture also report less work-family conflict and intent to leave the organization, higher levels of job, family, and life satisfaction, and better physical and mental well-being. In addition, the availability and ease of use of family-friendly benefits concurrently bolster employee perceptions that their organizations and supervisors value life outside of work and strengthen the organization’s work-family culture.
Rohini Anand, Ph.D. is Senior Vice President & Global Chief Diversity Officer for Sodexo.