Family-friendly working: the art of the possible

As I prepare to move on from my post as programme coordinator for Family Friendly Working Scotland I have been reflecting on what I have learned. When it comes to family-friendly working this is what I have learned:

  1. Never underestimate the power of people to resist change. If I had a tenner for every HR manager who has told me that the best of family-friendly and flexible working policies can be killed stone dead by middle managers, I would be retiring rather than moving jobs. The best performing employers know they have to keep on investing in research, communications and training designed to empower managers and undermine the cult of 'presenteeism'
  2. Imagination, trust and confidence, in employers and employees, are the essential ingredients in creating better work-life balance. Policies and legislation matter but some bureaucracy can add to, rather than remove barriers
  3. We have to measure what matters. Presenteeism - simply being around all the time - still counts for too much. Very few of us are fully able to relax into measuring performance by outcomes - what changed as the result of work done - rather than what we did. No one would expect to be recruited on the basis of listing the number of hours spent at work, the number of meetings attended or reports produced but once we get jobs it often seems that this visible output matters more than what you achieve. Whether your job purpose should directly result in social change, greater profits or better service what matters is whether you achieved any of it, and whether you and your colleagues are working well enough together to achieve the same (or more) the next time
  4. Gender matters. We talk about the 'talent pipeline' to describe the drive to see more women making it to executive board level but more action is needed to stop the leaks along the way. In our MFI Scotland research (2015) 41% of parents said that work is becoming increasingly stressful. Over a third thought this affected their family life and relationships with their partner. At the same time, men reported that they found it 'more difficult' than women to ask for and receive flexible options at work. So guess who's still taking more time out for family responsibilities? In careers spanning five decades, this should not matter but it does. The gender pay gap worsens for part-timers and after the peak childbearing years
  5. None of us know enough. There is so much emergent research exploring what drives motivation, productivity and wider wellbeing. Sweden is trialling six-hour days, France claims greater productivity than the UK across a typically shorter average working week, and some organisations are moving away from maximum holiday entitlements to a more self-managed approach to balancing time-off with achievement of agreed goals. Learning from others is part of building a more family-friendly future. We have to get better at spreading that learning around
  6. The biggest thing we all have to remember? There is no single description of the 'right' work-life balance - all of us know it when we have it but it varies depending on the nature of the work and the state of our health, wealth and social responsibilities at any given stage of our working lives. The exciting challenge lies in discovering the art of the possible and learning from the pioneers