Today’s digital work environment has opened up a whole new world of possibilities for working outside the traditional model of 9-to-5, Monday through Friday, chained to your desk. While some jobs will always require employees to be in a certain place at a certain time, communications technology now makes flexibility possible for most knowledge workers in terms of where, when, and how they get their work done, at least some of the time. Flexible work is attractive to many employees, but it’s more than just a perk: Many organizations are discovering that it can help drive important business goals such as engagement, retention, productivity, and inclusion. To that last point, flexibility is now seen as a valuable tool for helping working parents and caregivers manage their home obligations without sacrificing professional growth and career progress.
One company that has had a positive experience with flexibility is PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), which over the past ten years has evolved a culture of “everyday flexibility” that makes flexible work available to all employees, regardless of their role or circumstances. Anne Donovan, U.S. People Experience Leader at PwC, recently outlined what the company learned in this process at the Harvard Business Review. One key lesson, she writes, is to “be ‘flexible’ when creating a flexibility culture,” rather than implementing a rigid, formal policy:
Flexibility for a caregiver might mean being able to leave work early to take an elderly parent to a doctor’s appointment. For a parent, it might mean taking a midday run, so evenings can be spent with their children. And for others, it could simply be taking an hour in the afternoon to go to a yoga class and recharge. When we look at flexibility this way, it’s easy to see why formal rules actually hinder adoption and progress. It’s impossible to have a one-size-fits-all approach for flexibility. We let our teams figure out what works best for them, as long as they deliver excellent work, on time. The rest is all fair game.
In recent years, business leaders have become increasingly aware of the caregiving burdens affecting their employees’ lives and, by extension, their organizations. At the same time millennials, who make up the largest generational cohort in the workforce, are settling down and starting families, the baby boomer generation is aging and imposing additional elder care responsibilities on their gen-X and millennial children. In recognition of this burden, many progressive organizations have expanded their leave and flexibility offerings for employees with family caregiving responsibilities, but not all employees enjoy these benefits, particularly in the US, where there is no statutory parental leave entitlement.
A major new report from Harvard Business School underscores the significant toll this caregiving burden places on employees’ productivity, which employers may be underestimating. In their report, The Caring Company, Harvard Business School professor Joseph Fuller and Manjari Raman, program director of the school’s Young American Leaders Program, surveyed 1,500 employees and 300 HR leaders to gauge the impact of caregiving responsibilities on workers’ performance, the extent to which employers recognize this effect, the benefits employers are offering to help employees manage these obligations, and how these benefits are being used.
Some of the report’s key findings include:
- 80 percent of employees with caregiving responsibilities said caregiving affected their productivity, but only 24 percent of employers thought caregiving influenced performance, and 52 percent of employers don’t measure the extent of their employees’ caregiving burdens. Employers recognize, however, that work issues such as unplanned absences, late arrivals and early departures from work — which often arise as a result of caregiving obligations — negatively affect employees’ career progression.
- 32 percent of all employees said they had voluntarily left a job during their career due to caregiving responsibilities. The impact is particularly acute among millennial employees: 50 percent of employees aged 26-35 and 27 percent of employees aged 18-25 said they had already left a job due to caregiving responsibilities.
- Among those who had left a job, 57 percent said they had done so to take care of a newborn or adopted child, 49 percent to care for a sick child, 43 percent to manage a child’s needs, 32 percent to take care of an elder family member, and nearly 25 percent left to take care of an ill or disabled family member. The most common reasons they gave for leaving their jobs were that they could not find or afford paid help, or because they were unable to meet their work responsibilities and provide care at the same time.
“Equal Lives,” a new report prepared by the UK organization Business in the Community in partnership with Santander, sheds light on the needs, perceptions, and attitudes of working men and women in the UK regarding the balance of work and caregiving. Overall, the report finds that men want to be more involved in caring for their children and elderly parents, but feel hindered from doing so by a combination of organizational and public policies and societal expectations around gender roles. Some of the report’s key findings include:
- The majority of men (85%) agree they should be as involved in all aspects of childcare as women. At the same time, over nine in ten men believe it is equally acceptable for both women and men to take time out from employment in order to care for their family. …
- Even in organisations which have familyfriendly policies, men report concerns for career, progression, finances and a feeling that their caring duties are not as recognised as women’s and less appreciated by organisations.
- The ability to work flexibly is the organisational policy that both men and women find the most important when it comes to balancing work and care. However, takeup is significantly lower than its perceived importance.
- Many men say they would be encouraged to use policies to support them with balancing work and care if they were confident that it would not impact their career prospects or if there were more visible examples from senior leaders in their organisation.
“This finding resonates with the conversations we’ve had in our ongoing research with men and couples who opted to take shared parental leave,” professors Emma Banister and Ben Kerrane note at the Conversation. Enacted in 2015, the UK’s Shared Parental Leave policy grants new mothers (or “lead parents” in same-sex couples) a year of leave to divide between themselves and their partners in any proportion they choose. Take-up of SPL has been disappointingly low, which critics attribute to a lack of public awareness and the common practice among employers of “topping up” the statutory minimum of parental leave pay for mothers but not fathers. Beyond that, Banister and Kerrane’s research suggests that the scheme may be hindering itself by replicating the gender expectations it is meant to ameliorate:
In a panel discussion at Gartner’s ReimagineHR event in London last week, Birgit Neu, Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion at HSBC, and Eric Way, Director of Diversity & Inclusion at Volvo Group, sat down with attendees to share their experiences evolving their organizations’ D&I strategies over time. Although Birgit and Eric come from different organizations with different D&I journeys, common themes emerged from their stories that offer some insight into how to run a successful D&I program. A key point both panelists raised was that D&I must be “red-threaded”—that is, consistently part of the entire employee experience, both on an individual level and in interactions with colleagues.
Birgit was HSBC’s first global Head of Diversity & Inclusion, which meant that her strategic direction was defined by the organization’s need to understand what work was already being done in the space of D&I at the organization. Her first tasks were to build that understanding and use it to create a central theme for how the organization would approach their D&I mission in a unified way going forward. Being closely aligned with the talent analytics function, she said, helped her and her team to assess the experience of the bank’s employees and identify opportunities for improvement.
One example she gave was about parents and caregivers: Many organizations assess the number of parents in the organization by how many individuals have identified dependents in the HR information system. At HSBC, however, Birgit and the talent analytics team were able to determine that when asked directly, many more individuals identified themselves as parents than the system indicated. This gave the company an opportunity to reconsider the experiences of the parents in its workforce and think about wellness communications in a different way. HSBC went back to employees to see if there was a difference between parents and caregivers, as they had previously lumped these groups together. They found that asking people these questions separately gave them a clearer picture of their employees’ needs and challenges, and have been able to work with the benefits team to ensure that communications are relevant and timely to each group’s needs.
The number of people in the US who relocated for a new job last year declined to 3.5 million from 3.8 million in 2015, the Wall Street Journal‘s Rachel Feintzeig and Lauren Weber reported on Sunday, citing census data. Even as the US population has grown, the number of relocations has been on a downward trend overall since the government began tracking this data in 1999. A new analysis from Challenger, Gray & Christmas looks back even further and concludes that the percentage of job seekers willing to move for new jobs has fallen dramatically since the late 1980s: Between 1986 (when Challenger began collecting data) and 1990, the average annual relocation rate was 35.2 percent, compared to just 11.3 percent on average between 2007 and 2017.
Various factors can discourage candidates from taking jobs that require them to move, experts tell Feintzeig and Weber at the Journal. One major variable is housing costs: If candidates can’t afford to live in the high-cost cities where jobs are abundant, they won’t take those jobs. The high rents and other costs of living in powerhouse cities like New York, San Francisco, Boston, and Los Angeles can make it difficult for Americans from less expensive parts of the country to move there, even for comparatively lucrative work. When real estate values are low, on the other hand, candidates may be reluctant to move if they own a home they can’t sell; this is why, when General Electric moved its headquarters from Fairfield, Connecticut to downtown Boston in 2016, the company offered to buy relocating employees’ houses if they were unable to sell them.
Beyond housing considerations, workers may be unwilling to move because they don’t want to disrupt the lives of their spouses or children. Dual-income families may hesitate to relocate when one partner gets a job offer in another city, if that means the other partner will have to quit a good job in their current location. Such a move often means temporarily losing household income earned by the second partner and might also depress their future earnings.
One third of Americans under 40 have spent time caring for an older relative or friend, while another third expect to do so in the next few years, a new poll from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds. Furthermore, the burden of caregiving appears to be causing these younger adults more stress than their older peers:
These younger caregivers, age 18‑39, differ from caregivers age 40 and older in several ways. Younger caregivers spend fewer hours providing care compared to caregivers age 40 and older, who are more than twice as likely to spend 10 or more hours a week providing unpaid care (26 percent vs. 63 percent). Although they spend less time providing care, younger caregivers are more likely to report being at least moderately stressed by caregiving (80 percent) than are caregivers age 40 and older (67 percent). While caregivers age 40 and older are disproportionately female compared to the overall population (59 percent female vs. 41 percent male), this is not true of younger caregivers, who are just as likely to be male (48 percent female vs. 52 percent male).
Most caregivers say they are getting the support they need in their elder care obligations, with young adults saying they mostly rely on family for this support and often use social media to solicit the help they need. Younger prospective caregivers, not surprisingly, are more likely than their over-40 counterparts to say they feel unprepared to take on the role, but most say they expect to share these responsibilities with someone else.
The AP-NORC survey also found that most young American adults have little confidence that government safety-net programs will be there for them in their old age: only around 10 percent expect Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid to provide benefits at that time comparable to or better than they offer today. Younger Americans are also unsure of whether they will be financially prepared to their own elder care needs in retirement, with only 16 percent saying they were very confident that they would have the resources to meet those needs.
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While federal law in the US does not require organizations to provide their employees with paid family or medical leave, American companies are facing more pressure than ever to do so, from state governments, the labor market, activist investors, and the court of public opinion. All of the 20 largest US employers now offer some kind of paid parental leave benefit to employees who welcome a child into their families, while companies that employ large numbers of hourly workers are offering these employees paid parental and sick leave for the first time.
Of course, family leave encompasses more than maternity or paternity leave: New state family leave laws also obligate employers to grant paid time off when an employee or a member of their family experiences a serious health condition, while sick leave mandates and policies often allow employees to use that leave to care for a sick child or family member. Letting parents take paid sick leave to care for a sick child is not uncommon, but in recent years, progressive employers like Deloitte, Facebook, and Microsoft—to name just a few—have begun adopting more expansive caregiving leave policies. These companies recognize that the aging of the US population is putting many mid-career professionals, especially women, in the position of helping take care of their elderly parents and other relatives. The business case for caregiving leave is persuasive, as such policies help retain valuable talent and avoid losses due to turnover or reduced productivity.
Now that family care leave has entered the American mainstream, however, a new question has arisen: Who counts as family for the purposes of these policies? Some states and localities’ sick leave mandates entitle workers to apply their leave to caring for loved ones to whom they are not related by blood or marriage, the Associated Press’s Jennifer Peltz reports. That’s the case in the states of Arizona and Rhode Island, as well as the big cities of Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and soon, Austin and St. Paul.
The concern among some skeptical employers and their advocates, however, is that the more-flexible family designation will encourage the abuse of sick time. But there’s a simple solution to that problem, Brookings Institution senior fellow Richard V. Reeves tells Peltz, which is to sidestep the question of defining “family” or “family equivalent” altogether and simply let workers use their sick leave to care for themselves or another person, whoever that may be. After all, this doesn’t increase the amount of leave to which employees are entitled.