Family-friendly companies

Family-friendly companies (October 22, 2007)

By Ben Teehankee

Green Light, Manila Standard Today

One of the topics I enjoy teaching the most at the business school is family and work-life harmony. Our aim in including this topic in our business ethics course is to train managers who will pursue their career objectives while promoting the healthy development of their family lives. In support of this aspiration, we encourage our students to promote family-friendly work policies in their own organizations. This is part of what we see as the urgent need to humanize the workplace.

People generally assume that in the tug-of-war between career and family the latter will always lose out. In this day and age of global competition, 24/7 work demands, and Blackberry push email, employees assume that only those who are willing to sacrifice their family time and precious weekends have the opportunity to succeed in the workplace. After all, the reasoning goes, with everyone struggling to find good jobs, one should be happy to find a job at all even if it takes a toll on one’s health and family obligations.

But is this a sound belief? The realization that it isn’t is growing. In the first place, the social cost of family neglect in terms of adolescent problems, such as drug addiction and pregnancies, is becoming too high to ignore. In the second place, the need to retain the best talent in organizations brings to the fore the point that such people want more from their lives than simply never-ending work. In the US, a McKinsey survey of Fortune 500 male executives revealed that more than 80% would like job options that let them balance professional goals with things outside of work. And 55% are willing to sacrifice income to get this balance. Quite tellingly, more than 85% believe that companies that enable such changes will have a competitive advantage in attracting talent. In short, more and more members of management are answering the call to “Get a life!”.

In response, some US companies have responded with surprisingly innovative approaches. Fortune Magazine reported that at 20th Century Fox Television, Gary Newman and Dana Walden were appointed both as presidents to be jointly responsible for the performance of the entire company. The benefits for the company which produces 25 series a year and deals with six networks and 200 cable channels was immediate. Both presidents were better able to get involved in more aspects of the company’s life and, most importantly, the arrangement has been very good for their family lives. When Walden’s daughter suffered a broken arm during a weekend, she didn’t come in on Monday but all scheduled meetings continued – the other president was there.

In the local scene, some companies have been equally hard at work in making themselves more family-friendly. The Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) and Ayala Foundation have published an informative little casebook on the family-friendly policies and practices of selected companies which they have dubbed simply as “work-life”. In explaining the business logic for work-life, the casebook explained: “the conflict between [work and the family life] of the working person has negative implications on his/her performance in the workplace. Problems coming from family and personal issues distract the person from the tasks assigned to him/her. Employees become dissatisfied with their jobs. Loyalty to the company and focus towards its objectives diminishes. Absence from work develops into a regular occurrence as a result of stress and tension. … During these times when competitiveness relies primarily on the efficient allocation of resources, concern for the well being of employees to obtain the maximum level of output becomes essential.”

How have local companies met the challenge to bring family and work-life harmony into the workplace? The casebook features 12 companies but let me mention three. IBM Philippines’ “Work At Home” program applies the concept of telecommuting. The program is premised on the belief that with the right tools, employees whose work often brings them out to the field can be equally effective working from their homes. The benefits to employees are manifold. They become closer to their families, avoid unproductive travel time and traffic conditions, and gain more control on prioritizing their time. For its part, the company benefits through reduced absenteeism, reduced costs in office workstations, increased productivity due to improve employee morale and retention of female talent through childbearing years.

Sirawan Foods Corporation (SFC) approaches the work-life challenge through innovations in benefits and hiring practices. Knowing how important health care is to family maintenance, the company extends its medical benefits to family members of its employees. The company also hires qualified employee family members. In the company’s experience, these practices have enhanced employee commitment as well as productivity.

The need to provide for the needs of the family through a living wage is a special need of family heads. In response to this, Philgerma Manufacturing Incorporated practices profit-sharing at the end of the year. It also instituted a livelihood program which allows workers to care for hogs bought by the company. The employees are able to own the offsprings of the hogs, from which they can derive additional income.

The initiatives of concerned companies to make work and family life a complementary whole are varied and many. But underlying all of them is the belief that there can be no real business success amidst the widespread failures of families. Business managers should take notice of this opportunity to achieve their traditional business goals while helping uplift the most basic building block of society – the family.