Is work really a necessity? Should we be seeking jobs, careers or lifestyles? How true is the view today held by psychologists in the industrial age that man has a natural dislike for work?
During the year, I have had the opportunity to address different fora on the realities of the future of work. As I learned and challenged old views, one thing became clearer – we do not have as much time to adjust as the future is upon us!
Increasingly, geographical barriers no longer pose a limitation on transacting business within a global marketplace, this summarily also opens a global talent marketplace. Suddenly the war for talent is back in the mainstream and there is no rising comfort as experts opine that by 2030 more than half of the viable workforce will prefer unconventional working arrangements. In recent times, there is an increased call amongst employees for legislation that will make work hours more flexible to accommodate their extracurricular activities. Moonlighting was a taboo but today the opportunity to engage in side hustles while in gainful employment is promoted as an Employer Value Proposition-the hustle for talent is real
For many, the unfriendly work practices are to blame for the increase in stress levels amongst youths; failed marriages and truancy in children. The lists of allegations leveled against work are numerous, and most likely cannot be exhausted in one discourse.
While we agree to disagree on what role work should play in our lives and the quantum of time it should consume, there is a consensus that there is a need to begin to put in proactive and innovative methods of making work more employee-friendly.
Work-Life Balance Integration
For years, I held the opinion that work and life can balance, however in recent times I believe one should not give way for the other and so can co-exist harmoniously.
There is a consensus that human being is made to work, however, the divergent views these days emanate from the duration. Can work be centered around convenience and if at all, must an employee experience the contest of juggling work and other life interests?
Research findings suggest that the majority of individuals occupying the active work population in many cities across the world; especially women are experiencing a time squeeze and uneasiness at work. The data available also suggests that working excessive hours leads to ill health, poor morale, and a negative rather than positive effect on productivity. In the opinion of some, it is difficult for employees to execute their tasks within their contractual hours, and that the time allocated to work is not convenient. Is this hard to imagine in Lagos, where the average time spent on a daily commute is 4 hours?
Is it just a myth or are we too tired after work to enjoy our hard-earned money and are donating it to gyms, hospitals, and pharmacies for prescriptions to treat stress-related problems?
For years the debate on family values has focused more on ideology than on what keeps families together. Work is more demanding these days. The environment of work has become more competitive, the cost of living is becoming more expensive, therefore more people are working longer hours and cutting into family time in a bid to make ends meet.
Today in Nigeria, there is a noticeable difference in the composition of the nuclear family compared to the early and mid-eighties. There is an increase in single-parent units, what was then an anomaly is now the norm. A major reason attributed to this shift in orientation is work. Work is driving families apart; there are a lot of households run-on long-distance arrangements since one member of the family must work away from home.
In addition, more women in their late twenties and early thirties, driven by their commitment to work are deciding not to marry but to also enjoy the social need for procreation. These points are not an attempt to belittle women or to question their role in productive engagement; after all, in my opinion, work is important for every individual as a tool for self-actualization.
Work has also been identified as the culprit responsible for the rising cases of Hit and Run relationships and marital disappointments.
A survey of several American companies revealed that the impact of work issues on home life is three times greater than the impact of home life on work. The statistics also show that marital status is absolutely critical in companies’ promotion decisions as 98% of top male corporate executives surveyed were married and had kids. Ironically companies prefer to elevate married employees presumably because of the stability it should bestow, however, many companies do nothing to support marriage or family issues.
Let’s be realistic. If you are going to do the job, and be successfully married, you’ll have to prepare to face the challenges; it will place a lot of demands on your time and the relationship, but there are families that have managed to excel in both.
The demanding work situation is especially difficult for employees with children. These days, the luxury of a visiting parent or relative who will double as a baby sitter is rare. Today there are grandparents in the active workforce. How do you fulfill your job commitments without cheating your children?
Working mothers face this challenge all the time. Mixed with the responsibilities of caring for their children and families, they also have a commitment to their careers. This is not to say that fathers play a lesser role in the welfare of the family, but we must agree that society exerts more pressure on the woman. To achieve a balance between the demands of a job and raising children, you could:
Find a daycare facility close to your office to allow you to make quick visits to check on your children during your break hour. Research data show that female employees with children perform better on the job and are more likely to work longer hours when they are near their children.
Before rushing off to work, eat breakfast with your children. During this time, you can ensure that they have all the things they need for the day, and this bonding will help them tolerate your absence during dinner.
Select a game and play it with your children regularly. These activities provide an opportunity to bond with your children while teaching them some of life’s valuable lessons.
I did not say this, but it is worth the risk occasionally to go in late to work so you can take your children to school. To reduce the guilt on your conscience, you can ask for the time off from your manager or ask to have the time you have taken off to drop them at school deducted from your leave.
Do not miss special events. Open Days, Talent show, cultural days are a must. Be very visible at the event and remember to use every opportunity to tell them how proud you are of their achievements.
Minimize the time on portable devices while driving or relaxing, rather spend the time talking to your children and partners. In those moments you can spot and deal with issues that could become problematic.
Ensure you possess a healthy relationship with Social Media Platforms as experts suggest there are growing cases of dependency and addiction all of which are impacting the quality of life adversely. This is not a reason to pass off the latest I-phone. However, use the apps that enable you to regulate the time you spend on social networking.
Cultivating an Employee Friendly environment
It is important to track the demographic characteristics of your workforce. A population comprising millennials and Gen Zs will not thrive on conventional practices and policies. Other factors to be monitored include the cultural practices and norms of your operating environment (Some strategies might not support those who dwell in the southern part of the country when compared to their counterparts in the North.), The number of parents in the workforce, the number of women, differently-abled employees, the rise of new methods/technologies in your business area whilst safeguarding your natural need to remain competitive.
Some of the benefits inherent in supporting employee-friendly practices include; increased productivity, improved recruitment and retention, lower rates of absenteeism, reduced overheads, an improved customer experience, a more motivated, satisfied and equitable workforce, and reduced turnover.
Thankfully, Nigeria is now IT savvy and the needed technology for telecommuting or home working is no longer a luxury. Telecommuting is effective for employees with, young children, and the invalid or aged relatives who require intensive care. It can also reduce the cost for the employer because the workspace can be maximized or sublet for a fee.
We must begin to view smart tools not as benefits but as tools of the trade. The traffic in cities such as Lagos mandates an urgent review of physical presence at work. We must rethink the working hours to allow employees to spend less time on the commute. The Odd and Even number regime in the 80s in Nigeria might not have worked but it can be spun as a teaming event to encourage carpooling. This will help employees forge deeper and meaningful connections and contribute to a reduced carbon footprint for the organization.
Discipline at work, Individual development plans, and appraisals will allow employees and their employers to review and practice work-life balance on a regular basis, plan for busy periods and adjust before challenges arise. It is pertinent to note that Individual Development Plans and regular appraisals, Coaching and mentoring programs can also help employees better execute their tasks, prioritize work and have ample time for fulfilling other engagements.
An open door management approach to work issues will also allow for establishing practices that address the business and personal needs of employees. Self-development and training on how to practice work-life integration is also another way to ensure that your work-style allows you to participate in other activities. There are good bookshops across Nigeria that are replete with books, videos, and manuals on how to hone your skills in this area.
Becoming an employee-friendly organization is easy! The first step is to identify and clearly articulate business reasons for developing and implementing work/life strategies. To achieve this, you will need an organization assessment to review your employee relations, communication style, organizational culture, and your human resource policies and procedures manual.
In addition, you must effectively and continuously communicate its benefits to win the commitment of all stakeholders in your organization.
In conclusion, I would like to suggest a branding and grading system for organizations, just like the baby-friendly initiative UNICEF has successfully implemented in hospitals. Employers should be encouraged to publicly declare if they are employee-friendly. Who knows, we, employees just might not apply to work there if we feel that our extracurricular interests will not be safeguarded. What do you think?