This article was published in the Metro on 28th November.
According to 19th century scientists, if a frog is placed in tepid water that is very gradually heated to boiling point, although it’s physically capable of jumping out of the water, the frog does not. It strikes me that all too often this is how we are at work: the temperature of our respective professional environments is heating up around us – we stay late, we answer emails early, we miss kids’ bed times, and the water is boiling. But most of us just don’t jump.
So, when I saw the news about the Goldman Sachs initiative of providing emergency nanny cover for employees with sick children, I initially thought it was a great idea. It seemed like a good way of turning down the heat on working parents and making life a bit easier. However, the more that I thought about it, the more I started to worry – because what the initiative actually does is downplay the importance of parenthood. The message that I took from it was that an ill child should not interfere with the regular working day – work should come first. This despite recent research by CIPHR revealing that 75% of working parents experience stress and anxiety when trying to implement a work-life balance.
If companies could stop thinking about monitoring working hours and start assessing work impact instead, then as a workforce would all be happier, healthier, smarter and wealthier. This seems as old-fashioned as the 19th century frog scientists, and it’s counterproductive – neither good for the workspace, nor the children. Surely what we should be doing is creating structures that allow for parental flexibility, and the ability to ensure sick children are not simply outsourced to a stranger. Last week I was on a Skype call with a client based in Copenhagen. As the time approached 5pm, they said that they’d like to end the call as it was getting late and they all wanted to have dinner with their children. I was amazed, struck by the fact that none of them apologised for it – they simply stated that they were heading home to their families. What really stood out was that they were all men.
Thinking about the Goldman Sachs emergency childcare coverage, I later asked one of them what he would do if his child was sick. He answered immediately that either he or his wife would work from home that day. I pushed further to see if he felt he would be letting down his team, or that his work would suffer because he was choosing to work remotely and take care of his child – he genuinely could not understand the question. In the UK, we are too often worried that we’ll get it wrong. But thankfully, there are changes that seem to be taking place. Time-wise, the organisation behind the Part Time Power List initiative, is celebrating organisations that are battling the culture of ‘presenteeism’, and allowing men and women the flexibility they need.
So while I applaud Goldman Sachs for attempting to shake off its ‘bleed to succeed’ image by implementing initiatives like this – along with adding payment for IVF and gender reassignment costs to its benefits plan – I’d be more impressed to see systematic changes in the City and beyond for working parents, in order to reduce anxiety and stress. If companies could stop thinking about monitoring working hours and start assessing work impact instead, then as a workforce would all be happier, healthier, smarter and wealthier.
Productivity has nothing to do with being chained to a desk; technology allows us all to work in a way that fits the demands of the 21st century.
The future is flexible