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‘Family-friendly’: the magic recruitment ad phrase

Work-life balance can mean different things to different people

For some, it is a clear demarcation between the end of work time and the start of personal time; for others, it is the exact opposite – the ability to blend work time and personal time to juggle both successfully.

Imagine that a manager has asked an employee to access an online training course and complete it. The course is available via a website, with a supplied password and login.

The employee asks whether they can leave work early a couple of times for childcare reasons; in return, they will complete the course by logging in from home in the evening. The manager declines this request and says taking work home will adversely affect their work-life balance. The employee, fuming, says that being able to make some adjustments due to their family life is the epitome of work-life balance.

‘Family-friendly’ is becoming a more common phrase in recruitment ads and job descriptions. Families come in all kinds of diverse forms these days and the phrase does not make any assumptions about the type of family, such as a conventional couple, adopters, same-sex parents, foster carers or single parents. It could apply as much to those with caring responsibilities for older relatives as to those with children.

The Huffington Post recently ran an article on the most family-friendly companies worldwide; however, certainly to British readers, some of the family-friendliness was less than overwhelming. Accenture was quoted as a top performer for giving eight weeks’ paid parental leave after birth. This is not especially generous by the standards of some UK companies, let alone the public sector.

As for the other supposed benefits for parents, who really thinks that a breast milk courier service for lactating mothers who are on business trips is family-friendly? Family-friendly means not being expected to go on business trips while breastfeeding a baby. It just goes to show that corporate life has a very long way to go before it really ‘gets’ family life and understands that it is not about enabling women to work and travel non-stop despite having a new baby.

To be fair, some of the employers quoted, such as SAS, do seem to be making an effort to understand what makes life easier for families. Such employers are concentrating on services such as on-site subsidised child care, a pharmacy and health facilities.

Equally important for family life is the opportunity for flexible and reduced working hours. Company culture is crucial; for example, allowing people to take a couple of hours to go to a nativity play is a real loyalty-builder.

At the other end of the scale, Marks & Spencer allows workers up to nine months’ unpaid career leave if they need to cope with caring for a relative. Many people would find it invaluable to know that they could care for a terminally ill parent, for example, without jeopardising their job.

‘Family-friendly’ is a great selling point for recruiters, but HR departments need to be sure that the claim can be backed up with some really meaningful policies and practices; otherwise, the organisations are likely to have some very disillusioned recruits.

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