Working Families

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This week, I attended a Working Families event, hosted by DWF, on improving performance and employee wellbeing and engagement through achieving the right life balance. I have purposefully used the term ‘life balance’ as happiness and emotional resilience have a significant impact on how somebody behaves at home and at work, as has been confirmed in a recent report by Working Families and Unum entitled ‘Trust‘. A few areas were explored during the course of the half-day event, which are summarised below.

Changing demographics

We heard from Working Families that dual income households are now the norm. Migration and demographics are also playing a part in driving change – people are now tending to leave employment more for lifestyle than economic reasons. At some point during the course of their working life, 80% of people will become parents and 60% will have caring responsibilities. By 2020, 3.9m people in the UK will be simultaneously working, having children and have caring responsibilities. As many studies have indicated, this has already resulted in increased stress levels in the workplace.

Reward, recognition and motivation

Delegates were shown business writer Dan Pink’s video, ‘The surprising truth about what motivates us’, a fascinating insight into how individuals respond to reward. The video demonstrates how the response to financial reward for basic mechanical tasks is as expected, i.e. the higher the reward, the higher the performance. However, it unexpectedly showed that with cognitive, more complex tasks, the higher the reward, the worse the performance. This flies in the face of general organisational thinking with regard to reward and recognition schemes.

It doesn’t mean that companies should pay less, though. What it means is that if organisations pay their employees an amount where the issue of money is taken off the table, what is most important for them is autonomy, mastery and purpose. Organisations that allow and trust their employees to self-direct see better results and can draw on the basic human desire to better oneself. Finding their work meaningful, no matter what level they are at, means that not only will the organisation be better off, there is likely to be a positive impact on society too.

Shared Parental Leave

Changes to Shared Parental Leave were outlined by a representative from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Acas will shortly be publishing a Code of Practice on this. My view is that takeup of shared parental leave will be gradual as it will require a shift in societal attitudes. Even in Sweden, where shared parental leave has been in place for years, this has not translated to large numbers of fathers sharing leave. It is likely to be more prevalent in households where the female is the higher earner (27% of households, according to Working Families).

DWF: A case study

Last September, law firm DWF reviewed its property portfolio, which set off a chain of initiatives around home, flexible and agile working that it may not have hitherto considered. As a result of a series of mergers and an acquisition, the firm’s workforce had doubled to 2500. With property in suitable locations being hard to source, DWF began to think about creative and cost-effective ways in which its employees could work.

The firm has heavily invested in secure IT systems to facilitate new ways of working. 165 staff now work agilely including 56 that work from home. Two secretaries take it in turns to work from home on a job share basis. Further plans, such as home office pods for the garden, are being investigated. Employment Partner, Jim Wright, told us that embracing flexible working has not only seen wins in attracting talent, it has led to reduced costs and increased profit. DWF’s revolutionary approach just shows how flexible working really does pay dividends!

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