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What needs to change in the world of work? Part 3

This month my husband and I celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. It’s a milestone in our life together and as a family, and a relatively rare feat in the world of 2018.

It leads me to reflect on how we have juggled our family, work and lives and concludes this blog series of exploring, “What needs to change in the world of work?” In the first two instalments, exploring this 2018 PWC research, I looked at the subjects of ‘transparency and trust’ and ‘strategic support’. In this last instalment we look at ‘life, family care and work’ which was identified as the third most important ingredient needing to change in our places of work.

So often this subject sits squarely on the ‘female agenda’ and I don’t wish to lose half my readership at this point, so stay with me here…

Currently I have a male client preparing for marriage, an engaged housekeeper getting married for the first time at age 41, and several clients expecting babies. I want to make this an inclusive discussion, and the subject is not life stage or gender specific.

A leadership training client of mine is gearing up for an office relocation. And the questions they’re trying to pose in the flurry of moving office, is the organisational and space solutions that will work for their fast expanding organisation. These are important decisions if we wish staff to feel as though work is a place to which they desire to come and can smoothly integrate with their lives. This client has peak seasons, where stresses are high and the physical environment can serve to alleviate or exacerbate pressure and anxiety levels.

If we turn to international case studies, in this research DBS is cited as ‘an inclusive work environment’ and ‘instituting family-friendly policies’. So the tactical solutions may be options for flex-time, flex-place or shared job roles, which I have rarely seen in the SA job landscape.

But I think it points to a bigger conversation of what are the attitudes and beliefs about life, family care and work underlying policies within the organisation.

If, as in one of my maternity transition clients, you generously offer maternity coaching, yet fail to offer any flexibility in work policy, I think the message is mixed. The PWC work research study points to 37% of new mothers stating that they did not take the full maternity/ paternity/adoption leave they were permitted, because of career pressure, feeling this would undermine their standing at work.

And so my choice back in 2007, once I’d birthed both my sons and worked back my maternity commitment, was to off-ramp from formal employment, feeling that my standing at work had been undermined and that I’d been shifted sideways to a ‘softer’ option.

One of the countries in which I worked was Singapore, and the study interestingly reports that the majority of respondents from India (96%) and Singapore (93%), mirrored the global response that although work/life balance and flexibility is important to them, also said it is not available in practice and, further, people who work flexibly (reduced hours or job sharing) are regarded as less committed to the organisation. I confess this was my experience.

I’m not blaming my employer, for 12 years back, 6 months of maternity leave was generous as was a flexible work arrangement. But my choice to better integrate family care and work was to exit the organisation and commence consulting as an entrepreneur, which my husband was fortunately in a position to support.

Reflecting back on 20 years of marriage, would we have made the same career choices for ourselves today? I confess that

when I read of ‘on-ramping’ programmes and global corporates reaching out to women who left during maternity and welcoming them back, sometimes years later, I am a little envious.

But I believe that the conversation at organisations needs to go way deeper than simply elastoplasting a flexible working arrangement strategy onto an entrenched corporate culture. It needs to look at the very essence of what it is saying about whether we value and how we combine work, family care and life.

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