Employees have children, too (Editorial)

When an organization launches a family-friendly initiative that helps the bottom line, it’s worth taking note
By John Hobel
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 02/02/2004

E

mployers don’t always do a good job recognizing that staff have families. So when an organization launches a family-friendly initiative that can also help the bottom line it’s worth taking note.

It looks like CIBC is on to something with its backup child-care centre (see related articles link below). About 800 employees out of 12,000 in the Toronto area have registered. More than 2,500 absence days have been saved in the first year — and there you have the metrics senior executives need for innovative HR initiatives to gain support.

While the CIBC has economy of scale on its side when implementing programs like a backup child-care centre, smaller organizations can follow suit — either by working together in consortiums or reserving emergency child-care spots for employees in neighbourhood day-care centres.

There’s a lot of talk about getting more with less these days. Work-life balance is a relatively new term, coined to describe the hectic pace of modern work and the need to ensure there is time for personal commitments and relaxation. It’s a far cry from the Ozzie and Harriet days of the 1950s when mom was at home making sure families had the right balance. And while society has changed, workplaces have not always appreciated that single parenthood or both parents working is the norm these days.

Corporate leaders may not see themselves as instruments of social policy, but the organizations they lead are cornerstones of the communities employees live in. There’s a moral argument to be made about corporate responsibility to society and employees, but when it comes to influencing senior executives, work-life balance advocates are better off debating the bottom line. By linking burnout and turnover rates to poor work-life balance, and demonstrating that programs such as backup child care save absenteeism costs, HR professionals can build workplaces that are both family-friendly and financially successful.

But a family-friendly approach to Canada’s workforce is not just a corporate issue. Government must also start recognizing changes in society and work. Take the plight of the self-employed. Businesses are high on contingent staffing, but Canada lacks a social structure that supports both corporate Canada’s desire for a flexible workforce and its need to have citizens giving birth to the next generation of staff. The growing contingent labour pool is finding itself disadvantaged when it comes to benefits.

A federal Liberal Party parliamentary task force has recommended Employment Insurance maternity benefits be made available to Canada’s estimated 821,000 self-employed women who are not allowed to pay into the EI fund. The committee sees the lack of maternity benefits as a barrier to women entrepreneurs. The government had better take heed because health care, pension and benefit issues for self-employed Canadians will work their way onto the political agenda as the number of self-employed people without benefits grows. EI must adjust to the new reality of contingent workforces.

If Canadian corporations expect a future supply of workers to power growth, then helping create communities friendly to child rearing makes sense.

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