This week we are very pleased to bring you the first of a two-part guest blog series from Franca Godenzi of the Boston College Centre for Work and Family. After conducting research focused on the dual-career family, Franca shares her insights on how flexible work policies promote employee engagement and wellbeing in and out of the workplace.
Non-traditional families, including the dual-career family, are on the rise. It is crucial for organizational success that companies continue to find ways of supporting their employees and their families. For my senior thesis at Boston College, I focused on dual-career families conducting qualitative interviews with working parents about their personal and professional lives. And over two blogs I am going to share the findings of my study with you.
The women’s stories shed light on the various challenges they were facing as working mothers. I had always been passionate about women’s rights and conducting this study helped me to see that work-life policies are a crucial component to women’s advancement. In fact my study encouraged me to transform my academic passion for work-life integration into a professional pursuit, and I have since become the Member Relations Specialist at the Boston College Center for Work and Family.
The women in my study utilized various forms of child care, including nannies, home daycare, and daycare centers. All of them discussed various downsides of child care, including lack of oversight and reliability, high cost, and scheduling difficulties. One woman told of her home day care provider, a hypochondriac who insisted she stay home with her child if her child had even the slightest case of sniffles. Another woman’s nanny quit out of the blue, leaving her and her husband, both lawyers, struggling to find coverage at home and at work. The women whose children were in daycare centers argued that they were safer and provided their children with more structure and greater opportunities for social and cognitive growth, but agreed that the cost was very high. One participant told me her daycare provider charges her in cash for every minute she is late picking up her child.
There are multiple benefits for parents of on-site child care centers. Benefits include reduced concerns surrounding transportation of children to/from off-site centers and less additional time needed for pick-up and drop-off. A report prepared by the Center for Work and Family found improved positive perceptions in areas such as: quality of work, relationships with colleagues and supervisors, and job satisfaction. Parents with children enrolled in on-site centers reported feeling “less drained” and “worn out” than parents not utilizing the on-site centers. According to a 2008 report, of the parents using a full-service child care center, 68 percent said that workplace child care was important in their decision to join their company and 90 percent stated that access to a work-site child care center positively affects their productivity and focus at work. The same report suggests that users of an on-site child care center were 20 percent more likely to be rated as “top performers” by their employers compared with non-center users, and 68 percent more likely to have 5-9 years tenure with their organizations compared with non-center users.
Back-up care can also make a significant difference for employees. In a 2008 study, 74 percent of respondents reported that they are more likely to continue to work for their current employer due to the availability of on-site or near-site back-up child care, and 92 percent of respondents stated that back-up care positively affects their productivity. Studies have shown that respondents using dependent care supports offered by their employer report fewer instances of chronic health issues and less stress, are less likely to consider looking for a new job, and are more engaged in their work.
Encouraging employee engagement at home and at work
Half of the women in my study carefully considered the timing and spacing of their children due to career aspirations. Four women explicitly stated that it was difficult for them emotionally to return to work after the birth of their first child. One participant quit her job after she had her first child, but returned to work on a part-time schedule because of her encouraging and supportive manager. To retain top talent, employers should implement formal on-and-off ramping programs to help female employees maintain connections that will allow them to return to work without feeling marginalized or penalized for having children. Best practices include creating reduced-hours jobs, removing the stigma of motherhood, and implementing mentoring and networking programs that help women sustain their professional ambitions (Off Ramps and On-Ramps).
Four of the fathers in my study performed a greater portion of the parenting tasks than their spouses. As a whole, the fathers in my study were more involved than culturally expected. In order for fathers to be more involved, they need to have access to flexible work policies, such as flex-time, compressed workweeks, and telecommuting. When fathers are involved starting at the birth of a child, they are more likely to continue to be actively involved in raising their child. One husband in my study took off extended time from work, and another husband became a stay-at-home father after his children were born. Though he faced scrutiny for putting his career on hold, he found tremendous joy and satisfaction from being at home with his children.
On average, however, the women in my study took off between 12 and 16 weeks for maternity leave, and the men only a few days. In a 2011 study, only 1 in 20 fathers took more than two weeks off after their most recent child was born, and 1 in 100 took more than 4 weeks off. However, more than 75% of the fathers stated that they would have liked more time off with their new children. Paternity leave needs to be legitimized in the workplace in order for fathers to feel that they can take time off without facing career penalties or stigma from managers and co-workers.
Securing long-term success by advocating use of flexible work policies
In a 2012 study use of flexible work policies has been associated with high levels of job satisfaction and low levels of job stress for employees, and increased rates of attraction and retention of talent for employers. Leslie et al suggest that the use of flexible work policies facilitates career success if managers attribute use of FWP’s to a desire to increase work productivity, and thus view FWP use as a signal of high commitment. Managerial training programs may be an effective method for preventing potential career penalties for FWP use. A 2012 study found that employees who do not use work-life benefits when they need them avoid the possible negative stigma of utilizing the benefits; however, they risk decreased performance and loss of motivation in the long-term. In fact, according to the same study, use of flexibility and dependent care benefits are linked to subsequent promotions for married employees.
My study findings reiterate the importance of work-life policies for employees and their families. Institutional solutions, such as governmental policies and corporate support, have to be combined to assist employees to be their most successful personally and professionally. Ultimately, by supporting the mental, physical, and social wellbeing of their employees and their families, corporations will increase the likelihood of profitable and sustainable futures.
Franca Godenzi is the Member Relations Specialist at the Boston College Center for Work and Family, where she is responsible for supporting members of the Global and National Workforce Roundtables.