The Family Friendly Firm Essay

Family-friendly measures include childcare, care of the elderly, parental and other family leave and monetary benefits or tax rebates. At some stage in most people’s working lives they will have to learn to combine employment with the care of others (children, adults, elders) although most of the time is spent working leaving little time for ‘other demands and activities’ (Lewis, 2001).

Since the 1970’s there has been signs of change on the issue of the balance of responsibility between domestic and paid work There is now a clear change in sex-role attitudes, with men and women ‘increasingly exposing more ‘egalitarian attitudes’ (Kiernan, 1992: 82). Women are devoting less time to domestic duties including childcare. However women ‘still spend more time than men on domestic activities’ (Van der lippe ; Roelofs, 1995: 124). Van der lippe and Roelofs (1995) on the other hand find that one parent has to give up work to care for a child and it will most definitely always be the women.

In the UK men take on the least proportion of domestic work whereas women do ’67 per cent’ (Kirton ; Greene, 2000: 250) of domestic activities. I am going to critically evaluate the extent to which traditional assumption about the separation of work and personal lives are being challenged by ‘Family-friendly’ policies in UK organisations. Families can come in many different forms such as ‘two-parent, single parent and reconstituted families, households with young, teenaged or adult children, people in heterosexual or gay relationships living with friends, or in nuclear or extended families’ (Kirton ; Greene, 2000: 240).

High divorce rates have increased the number of single parent families. The idea that employment can be friendly and supportive towards ‘other social systems beyond work’ (Lewis ; Lewis, 1996:11) maybe open to different interpretations. This may be interpreted in the sense that employment does not conflict with family, or even supports people with family commitments to enable them to do their jobs.

On the other hand this may imply that ‘factors of benefits are provided’ (Van der lippe ; Roelofs, 1995:182), the implication being that this benefits employees and their families, but not organisations. Employees may feel this justified in withholding such favours from those who have not earned them, or who are seen as dispensable by the organisation. Family-friendly initiatives in this sense may be interpreted as perks, rather than as a basic human need and right to basic health and safety provisions.

Support from management is crucial for the success of any modifications to normal working practices. There are still some managers with views that women should not combine a career with parenthood. At the present time family commitments are largely viewed as a woman’s issue. The traditional assumption of ‘man as the breadwinner’ (Lewis & Lewis, 1996: xii) and his domain was work; the woman was the homemaker and the family was her domain has changed considerably since the 1970’s as attitudes towards the way employment is organised for the workforce has changed.

Forth et al (1997) argue that the traditional assumptions about the separation of work life and personal life are no longer viable, however a coherent set of new values and beliefs to take their place are not yet accepted as society is still dominated by the male breadwinner despite fundamental changes in the nature of families, the workforce and work itself. However traditional assumptions about the separation of work and family life have ‘become more anachronistic than ever’ (Kiernan, 1992: 65).

The younger generation of men in particular are currently ‘experiencing shifts in men’s involvement in families’ (Kiernan, 1992: 65) and the realisation and willingness to share a bigger role in family life. This has contributed to the increased number of men and women sharing responsibilities towards economic support for families as well as supporting the caring needs of families. They are trying to ensure a balance between their work and family lives.

Two million jobs in areas of traditional male full-time employment’ (Dickens, 1997) have been lost over the past 10 years in the UK. Many of the new jobs are created in Service industries mainly being part-time. There has also been a growth in temporary and short-term contracts, which has led to an increase in job security for both men and women causing an impact on their careers, homes and families. This in turn has a ‘destabilising effect on family life’ (Lewis ; Lewis, 1996: vii) and can prevent people reaching their full potential both at home and at work.

The profound and on-going changes in families are the reasons for the new set of organisational assumptions and values in relation to work and family life. ‘Dual-earner’ (Cooper ;Lewis, 1991: 13) families are increasingly the norm in two-parent families including those with young children. Economic needs and women’s desire for independence are the factors which have contributed to dual earner families, causing job insecurities and leading to difficulties upon the reliance on one income, a risk strategy for family support.

Traditionally gendered roles (within dual earner family partners) are now negotiated to ‘adapt to new realities and expectations’ (Forth et al, 1997: 2). It is more socially acceptable for a wife to follow her husband than vice versa, and wives are more likely to feel that they should put their family needs before their own. In addition the practicalities of the situation often favour husbands, as men are more frequently offered high status posts or higher salaries than their wives. For women in dual career families, relocation can cause considerable frustration.

A study of women managers in the UK found that the majority of those who were able to accept relocation (for promotion) were ‘unmarried’ (Cully et al, 1998: 152). Just under a quarter of all the women managers surveyed were not mobile because of their partner’s careers of because of their commitments. The decision for men to relocate is non-traditional. Although women frequently accept constraints on mobility from family reasons, men have began to do so only relatively recently. Consequently there is still an expectation that men will be mobile.

Men on the other hand do not conform to this expectation as they are often regarded as ‘lacking in professional commitment and their promotional opportunities may also be restricted’ (Lewis, ; Lewis, 1996: 35). There are new challenges for organisations because of globalisation, the drive for greater productivity and quality, and the need for a flexible workforce, which can respond rapidly to new ‘technology and changing markets’ (Lewis, 2001). Developments in technology are also driving change as it becomes increasingly feasible to exercise choice about where, as well as when, work is performed.

Employees are expected to be more responsible and accountable and at the same time to work more autonomously. Implicitly employers re demanding more commitment of employees and the very notion of commitment itself being redefined in terms of people’s intrinsic motivations. The main arguments put forward to examine the rationales for implementing work family policies and practices are the ‘equal opportunities, quality of life and business rationales’ (Cooper & Lewis, 1993: 53).

These are all developed over time from a relatively narrow focus to endorse broader needs for organisational change. The Equal opportunities rationale for recognising the interdependence of work and family take a number of forms. ‘Equal access to paid work for both men and women’ (Cooper & Lewis, 1993: 53) an objective of the equal opportunities. Women’s greater traditional involvement in family life can be addressed by providing support for childcare, time and flexibility.

Debates about the rights of women with family responsibilities to take up paid work have been stemming in the past however Marxists assumed that women’s presence in the labour market would in itself bring about equality in the workplace and beyond but this is not present in employment today. ‘Women’s employment guarantees neither equality in achievement and opportunities at work, nor a redistribution of unpaid work within families’ (Cooper ; Lewis, 1993: 53). Another objective is to achieve equal representation of women and men at all levels of organisations.

Work and family policies or practices are often conceived as removing barriers to women’s achievement at work. However this is not the case as women’s family responsibility is a factor contributing to gender inequality resulting in ‘sex segregation of the labour market, undervaluing of the work women carry out, stereotyping, discrimination, women’s exclusion from formal and informal networks of power and decision making and many others which maintain the ‘status quo and perpetuate inequalities’ (Raabe, 1996: 43).

Gender stereotypes ‘permeate male-female relationships in the workplace’ (Cull et al, 1998: 176), influencing the ways in which members of each sex is expected to behave and the ways in which their behaviour is interpreted. Stereotypes obscure real individual differences, but often become self-fulfilling, as when a woman is not expected to be capable of a particular job, and therefore given inadequate training and support. As men and women’s roles change, stereotypes may eventually be modified.

This approach faces many problems as it ‘attempts to remove barriers to promotion’ (Dickens, 1997) within current systems, rather than questioning the appropriateness of these systems and structures. Therefore organisational structures based around traditional male lifestyles overlook the male bias. Women are able to act and succeed as surrogate men by the implementation of initiatives such as child care assistance which means putting in long hours of work and behaving as though they have no ‘primary responsibilities for family’ (Lewis & Lewis, 1996: 13).

This results in no change in beliefs and values towards the traditional ways of working and about the interdependence of work and personal lives. The Diversity approach aims to ‘enhance opportunities for men and women to adapt work for family reasons, with the diverse work patterns that emerge from these adjustments being as equally valued as traditional patterns of work’ (Kiernan, 1992: 43). The Gender equity approach argues for men and women to receive fairness of rewards and constraints at the workplace they must realise men and women are equally responsible for generally family income and for family care.

Re-evaluation of organisational practices which make it difficult to achieve work and family goals as well as the recognition of diverse constraints are required within an organisation. The objective of the gender equity case is therefore to challenge and modifies organisational practices’ (Lewis, 2001). Women’s roles as mothers are visible in organisations but are ‘frequently played out’ (Kirton & Greene, 2000: 243) where the dominant social constructions of the ideal mother and the ideal worker are mutually exclusive whereas men’s parenting family roles are less visible in the workplace as well as in the family.

Resulting in making goals to make women’s and men’s family work roles equally visible, legitimate and valued. The Quality of life rationale is based on family-friendly employment due to stress created in the within families. It aims to examine the ‘relationships between work, family, and well-being which includes the impact of maternal employment on women’s well being, as well as the impacts on other family members’ (Crompton & Le Feuvre, 2000). Multiple roles can bring about satisfaction and protect against stress in some situations as recognised by the quality of life approach.

Although it is acknowledged that multiple roles can also cause stress, job dissatisfaction and negative consequences for individuals, families and organisations. Cooper and Lewis (1993) state how role strain is due to the failure of organisations to adapt to demographic and social changes rather than to any inherent conflict between the two domains. The objective of this approach is therefore to adapt organisational policies and structures to enable people to manage multiple demands in work and family with maximum satisfaction and minimum stress.

Barling (1994) argues that work has a negative effect on families as people are spending less time with their families, which explains the implementation of flexible or reduced hours schedules. He further argues that the quality of the work, rather than the amount of timing of the work, is critical to an understanding of the balance between work and family and also how organisations need to examine ‘all their practices concerning both work time and other conditions of work’ (Lewis & Lewis, 1996: 10) to be able to determine the impacts of work and family stress.

Reducing stress at work and minimising the potential negative impact of work in families is a broader objective of the quality of life rationale. However this approach is objective than subjective demands of work and family roles, which have the potential for conflict and overload. In contrast it is the ‘subjective appraisal of the demands that determine the outcomes’ (Lewis &Lewis, 1996: 11) as Marks (1994) argues that time and energy expand to meet the demands of roles to which workers are highly committed and a balanced set of commitments is less stressful.

A further policy for the rationale for work-life balance is the business case, which stresses bottom line advantages of adapting to change and builds upon both the psychological and equal opportunities arguments. This policy has the ‘potential to move responsibility for change from the province of personnel or human resource departments’ (Lewis &Lewis, 1996: 11) to that of line management as it addresses a central business concern. Like the other rationales the business case also has a broader objective. It is concerned about the cost of losing highly trained employees after they have children, which are usually women.

Lewis (1993) argues that work and family balance should now be recognised as a key business concern and strategic tool. A major objective of the business case is ‘reduce stress and strengthen equal opportunities’ (Lewis & Lewis, 1996: 32) to enhance the performance of organisations as business needs are paramount to the organisations success. Lewis and Lewis (1996) argue how the psychological argument prioritises the needs of women, and the equal opportunities emphasises a particular set of human values. The Law has encouraged equality in organisations by implementing legislations within workplaces.

The Equal Pay Act 1970 states that a woman’s terms of employment must be equal to those of a man in the same employment ‘provided that the man is employed on like work or work rated as equivalent or work of equal value’ (Kirton ; Greene, 2000: 291). The Sex Discrimination Act 1995 states that it is unlawful for an employer in Great Britain to discriminate against a person in relation to recruitment, dismissal or access to opportunities for promotion, transfer, training, facilities or services. The United Kingdom has encouraged the perception of part-time workers because of the ease with which employers can hire and fie employees.

This restricts the options open to family members for ‘managing career and family roles’ (Kiernan, 1992: 34), this applies mainly to women who have had the necessary accommodations at the expense of their careers or job security. Organisations are often described as ‘family-friendly’ on the basis of the number of formal policies developed to meet the needs of employees with family commitments. However there are no guarantees of an informal culture, which supports families even though these are important indicators of the will to change.

The UK Employment Relations Act, introduced in 1999, involves recommendations and legislation supplying family-friendly provisions such as child care support, parental leave and domestic leave. However this legislation still continues to define the mother as a primary carer, despite it being labelled as ‘parental leave’ (Kirton ; Greene, 2000: 243). As families have been defined as woman’s domain, policies have been used primarily to enable mothers to combine employment with the care of young children.

Few employers deliberate about how to become more ‘father-friendly’ (Cooper & Lewis, 1993: 73). Growing number of employers are developing formal policies designated as family-friendly’ (Crompton ; Le Feuvre, 2000) although some policies are still limited especially those policies concerning men as ‘dominant organisational cultures and traditional values remain resistant to change’ (Lewis ; Lewis, 1996: xiv). Companies are becoming ‘organising organisations’ (Kiernan, 1992: 43) wherein most people become contingent workers, which leads to few people benefiting from such policies.

Family-Friendly policies are becoming increasingly irrelevant as more and more people work on temporary contracts in organisations. New forms of working, such as short-term contract work, annual hours, job sharing and teleworking have developed alongside ‘significant levels of part-time work’ (EOR, 1996). Policies which have been seen to largely benefit those with family responsibilities have developed alongside flexible working practices which do not fulfil the objectives and are accompanied by ‘lower pay, instability of employment and a lack of employment rights’ (Lewis, ; Lewis, 1996: 35).

The balance between the needs of the employer and that of employees has been implemented successfully by Ludwig Beck, a German retail company specialising in fashion, adopted a flexible working policy sine 1976 after conducting a survey of staff members. Leave arrangements is the most commonly form of support for working parents. Women have the right to a period of leave after the time of the birth and some employer’s offer ‘enhanced maternity conditions’ (Lewis, & Lewis, 1996: 35) in addition to statutory provisions.

For the employer this measure involves limited additional cost and can bring benefits in terms of retention of skilled personnel. Leave for a father is also important if the objective of the equal sharing of family responsibilities between men and women is to be achieved. Littlewoods, a UK Retail Company offers ‘new fathers 10 days paid leave’ (Lewis, & Lewis, 1996: 35) and also offers employment breaks which allow employees to take time off to look after their children or elderly relatives, they allow the employees to travel and study and are guaranteed a job when they return.

In recent years ‘childcare partnership schemes’ (Lewis, & Lewis, 1996: 35) have been particularly popular, offering a more cost effective option for employers and other parties such as local authorities. Flexibility in childcare can be achieved by a number of schemes such as childcare vouchers or allowances. Recognising that employees face particular difficulties finding childcare provision, employers offer to buy into a resource and referral scheme for example BMW (in Germany), a Car manufacturing company set up a childcare information and referral service for their employees in 1992, using the services of a specialist agency, Kinder Buro.

The care of the elderly is becoming an important issue with the growth of the number of people living in their eighties. The main burden of the care falls disproportionately on women Elder care has received limited attention from employers, despite growing recognition throughout Europe that increasing number of employees will be responsible for caring for adult dependants. Family friendly policies can be put forward by union members by bargaining procedures around issues such as maternity and paternity leave, child care, working time, career breaks and employee benefits.

A progressive bargaining agenda needs to be developed by the Union which would ensure that maternity and paternity leave arrangements allow and encourage both mothers and fathers to take an active role, rather than following the traditional assumption that the ‘birth and nurture of children’ (Kirton & Greene, 2000: 241) is solely women’s business. Working time and career break arrangements give rise to disadvantages in pay, conditions or future prospects. Union’s further aim to ensure these and other employee benefits are made available on an equal basis to ‘lesbian and gay couples’ (Kirton & Greene, 2000: 240).

Another aim is to ensure subsidies are available for both men and women or to ensure access to childcare facilities supported by the ‘Manufacturing, Science, and Finance Union (MSF) and by the British Telecom unions’ (EOR, 1996). Raabe (1996) discusses standard and pluralistic paradigms of working time and argues that the latter, which encompasses a variety of flexible but equally valued working-time arrangements is more suitable to post-industrial work and to the work-family needs of the contemporary work force.

She argues that there is accumulating evidence pluralistic arrangements produce superior outcomes so that deeply embedded assumptions about the primacy of arbitrary notions of standard work are counterproductive for all concerned. Conclusion There appears to be ‘little change to the predominant view that domestic work is women’s work’ (Lewis ; Lewis, 1996: 62). Legislation, and public policy initiatives, appears to have done little to change social attitudes. While social attitudes on the sexual division within families also do not appear to be changing in them, there is little legislative pressure for change in this domain as well.

The trend for ‘family-friendly’ policies has not attempted to challenge the existing predominance of childcare as a family responsibility as flexible working tends to operate ‘to the disadvantage of the women and men employed on this basis’ (EOR 1996), evidenced by poorer pay and conditions and limited access to training and promotion. In addition, this is flexibility on the employer’s terms, with numerical flexibility encouraged to meet employer’s organisational needs. The ‘work-family challenge’ is not a woman’s issue. This is an issue of crucial importance to men.

If employers recognise man too have a legitimate wish to participate in their families and in the wider community, then organisations will really begin to change for the benefit of employers and employees. Once that is realised employment practices will have to rethink to ‘reconcile work and non-work responsibilities’ (Lewis & Lewis, 1996:xiv) employers will not only achieve a better motivated workforce but a more productive one as well. As a result of the shifting balance within the traditional family unit, roles are no longer taken for granted.

There is a definition of roles for both sexes as more men are now seen at school gates, pushing buggies and changing nappies for example. Attitudes towards family commitment is changing for men (especially younger men) as they want to play a significant role in their families, ‘leading to a better balance in their lives as well as in the lives of their partners’ (Lewis &Lewis, 1996, xiv). The key objectives the policies must address if they are to become family-friendly is by enabling people to fulfil family as well as work demands; by promoting gender equity and the sharing of family responsibilities between men and women.