Why does reality still throw companies a curveball?

Apr 9, 2019 | HR Insights

Losing footing every time a “life event” barges into the work dimension. Considering every absence a crisis that is difficult to recover from. Watching the clock to decide whether the worker is “serious”, whether their time belongs entirely to the company. These are last-century practices; the outlines of a reality that does not exist anymore.

Today, according to recent research from Harvard, in the United States 73% of workers are also caregivers, i.e. providers of care in the private sphere. Mothers, but also fathers, children, brothers and friends.

People who have the responsibility of caring for others; sometimes more intensely, at other times less, but on a daily basis, even only as far as their thoughts are concerned. Relationships, and life in all its forms, have entered the workplace. But they have not yet been mapped, and the outline that we are looking at is that of a world that no longer exists. The increasingly evident problem is that we are adapting corporate regulations and behaviors to that obsolete outline, and things are not changing: an absence is a crisis; the clock is an assessment tool; life is an “anomaly”.

The consequence of these obsolete behaviors are extremely high costs that are in part visible and in part hidden. The visible costs are those involving stress (some say €300, some €500 billion per year worldwide), flat or declining productivity despite the availability of increasingly advanced technologies, the replacement of people who leave the workplace – temporarily or permanently – because “they cannot manage” to maintain their dual role. The hidden costs cited by the Harvard research are those pertaining to the loss of talent and productivity for the simple fact that companies pretend to ignore the life cycles of their people – or do they actually ignore it?

The willingness to ignore the cycles of life of the people of this millennium is the only possible explanation for the way in which our approach to work is not evolving, consequently absorbing the cost of voluntary ignorance. The Harvard research data are clear (and also familiar to us):

1) An increasing number of families are “different”: the number of married couples is decreasing, while the number of single parent families and mixed family groups, for example several generations living together, is increasing.

2) The participation of women in the workplace is becoming essential to the survival of the entire economic system, and “much of the highly educated female workforce in the United States at one point or another ‘opts out, ratchets back, or redefines work,’ due to caregiving responsibilities”.

3) In 2013, 47% of middle age Americans were in a so-called “sandwich” situation: caught between the care of their children and that of their parents. Intense needs that are not only about care and financial support, but also about emotional support.

At the same time, industry 4.0 has reignited the war for the conquest of talents: how to attract the most talented people, how to retain them? But the corporate function that takes care of the wellbeing of people is not always the same as that which invests in attracting talent. On the one hand, a not-up-to-date understanding of what workers have become; their lives are increasingly complex and multi-dimensional, their needs are not only practical but increasingly human. On the other hand, the continuous search for tools to attract workers whose only visible and recognized dimension is the professional one, as if they lived in a vacuum.

In the end, there is investment in dozens of benefits which are often unknown by the workers and which do not tip their preference scale, while the companies continue to (at least pretend to) ignore their real life dimensions; those of today but also, and especially, those of the future. The absences that will always happen unexpectedly; the caregiving loads that will be managed as if they were foreign to the system, to be defused and contained; the delays or (anticipations) that will be interpreted as poor motivation and will weigh heavily on career decisions. Still today, like in the last century.

How long can a company acting on the basis of a reality- map that no longer exists continue to survive? According to Professors Fuller and Raman, co-leads of the project “Managing the future of work” at Harvard:

“The return for companies that learn how to take care and recognize the caregiving dimensions of their people, will go far beyond the hiring of employees. They will gain the potential to create an important source of competitive advantage”.

And it is not just about providing a series of useful services; that is important but not enough. It is a matter of changing perception and culture, and introducing the life dimension openly into the work cycle design. Planned and predictable life stages planned alongside career stages. Joined together, like they have been in our lives for a very long time.


Author: Riccarda Zezza, post written for Alley Oop

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