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Is a Family Friendly Workplace a Productive One?

It seems to go without saying that a happy worker would equate to a productive one.  Despite this seemingly obvious statement, however, countless studies reveal how deeply unhappy most people appear to be at work.  Providing employees with a better work-life balance seems to ride high in the list of things many organisations could do better in trying to build a happier workforce.

A recent paper by researchers at the University of Texas in Dallas suggested that promoting family friendly policies can be crucial. Making employees happy and content as well as more productive, satisfied and committed to their employer.

The study examined the family related HR policies of a number of over 150 organisations in South Korea over a four year period. The motivation for the research came through a personal connection with the various challenges involved in balancing a complex work life and an active family life.

South Korea as a nation experienced a big increase in the number of female employees over the last 50 years.  Despite this, the report reveals that many workplaces have remained predominantly male centered, with a mixture of societal pressures, cultural barriers and gender inequality contributing to the unequal situation.  Indeed, such is the situation that many women have been forced to quit their jobs in order to properly raise their children.

Government support

The government has in recent years stepped in to try and promote more family friendly policies in the workplace so that employees can better balance the demands of work and home.  The recommendations have slowly begun to seep through into the workplace.

The research explored how effective these new family friendly policies have been.  The policies included child care leave, maternity leave, childcare on site and restrictions in both overtime and night shifts.

The study looked in particular at whether there was any link between the implementation of these family friendly policies and the performance of the organisation and the productivity of employees.

The results were pretty fascinating.  They showed that family friendly policies certainly seemed to have a big impact upon increasing productivity.  However, they didn’t seem to make much of a dent on turnover rates amongst employees, with trade union membership regarded as having a bigger impact in that regard.  Interestingly, the report went on to suggest that a higher proportion of women in the workforce was connected to higher staff turnover rates.

The lack of impact upon staff turnover rates was particularly surprising to the authors.

"One of the things we haven’t been able to figure out yet is do these organizations have a high number of family-friendly policies because they employ a high percentage of women—and are trying to stave turnover—and the effects have not caught up yet," they say, "or do these organizations have such a high percentage of females employed that the turnover rate is going to always be high, just because the women outnumber the men, no matter the number of family-friendly policies?"

It probably goes without saying that this hypothesis requires further testing before any firm conclusions can be drawn, which is something the authors themselves confess.  They have also expressed a clear desire to test their theory in other cultures as well.

"Because of the hierarchy culture in South Korea, many people hesitate to utilize family-friendly policies because of cultural reasons, including the attitudes toward female workers," they conclude. "Female workers who wish to use these policies are concerned about discrimination such as promotion or evaluation. Furthermore, female workers may find it difficult to assert their privileges in a hierarchical work environment."

How family friendly is your own workplace?  Do you consider the family friendliness of an employer a major factor before moving to a new role?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.


Image: iStock

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