The last thirty years have seen considerable change in family life but on some levels that change might be considered slow. Demographic and societal changes rarely happen overnight. We know that even now, the gender pay gap, low representation of women at senior levels in business and the board room persist. We know that the ethnicity pay gap and minority representation at senior levels remain an issue. These issues are widely covered in the media, progress is being made ( for example the gender pay gap has fallen for the third year running in 2021) but there is still some way to go.
One of the key questions going forward is whether the impact of the pandemic and the move to hybrid and flexible working models will have an impact on families, gender balance and the workplace?
We believe that there are a number of potential positive outcomes which could emerge from the current changes that are occurring and there are also some potential pitfalls. How they play out will depend on decisions made by companies and decisions made by people themselves.
The positive opportunities:
Gender Differences. One of the causes of underrepresentation of women at senior levels of leadership in organisations (and a major contributor to the gender pay gap) has been the choice between continuing a career after the arrival of children and taking a break or part time role and ‘stepping back’. Hybrid working may enable couples to combine office and home based work to raise a family and continue careers more effectively particularly if the other partner can play a more active role in parenting.
Roles of men and women in the domestic environment. This remains contentious with mixed evidence on the extent to which couples shared domestic and parenting duties in the pandemic. Many men have commented on the positive effect of spending more time with their family and wishing to spend more time at home. There have been increasing participation by men in traditional domestic responsibilities but there is overwhelming evidence that women took on more responsibilities during the lockdowns, particularly around schooling. This had a negative impact on mental health.
The chart below is from LSE article by Claudia Hupkau and Barbara Petrongolo and shows the main provider of childcare in couple households with children aged 15 and below:
The impact on people’s lives of more flexible working patterns could be one of the real benefits of the move to Hybrid working. If people have more choice and can find the right balance for their circumstances (which could mean five days in the office for those who prefer it and home working for those who prefer it) – then peoples working lives may be substantialy improved. The impact on families and balancing work and home responsibilities should improve.
Less commuting and less stressful commutes. One of the significant benefits of removing commuting was to give people more sleep, less stress travelling and more time for either themselves or work. Going forward commuting will continue but more staggered start times, more home working will reduce the amount of time on the train, bus, car or bike. This should create more balance in people’s lives.
Living and working in more attractive places. This could benefit both family life and employers. The jobs market does not have to be limited to an hour or two commute from the office.
All of the above may well lead to increased productivity, increased business performance and growth and less time wasted.
What are the potential pitfalls?
The two speed career? Will those people who return to the office have an unfair advantage over the people working from home? Access to the ear of their boss and plenty of visibility and involvement. We spoke to one client who has already seen a difference between males and females and their preferred balance between home and office. At worse, this could mean a step back for the careers of those who would prefer to work remotely.
Life may have just got a little bit more complicated and maybe there will be more uncertainty. Adapting to the changes in working practices, new ways of managing people, use of technology may introduce increased levels of stress and mental health issues. Some people will not be happy with the arrangements for them personally in the post pandemic world and this may lead to dissatisfaction and less balance in people’s working lives.
There will be losers in the post pandemic world as some firms are unable to adapt. The impact on tourism, city centres, retail and aviation have yet to be fully realised. Some businesses and the people that work in them will face more difficult times and that impacts on people and their families.
Our view is that to achieve the potential benefits, organisations (managers, HR teams) and individuals need to make positive decisions that move the organisation or in the case of individuals their working lives in a direction that improves quality of life and meets the needs of the organisation. Organisations will need to be cognisant of the impact of working from home on visibility and individuals need to make sure they engage effectively with their manager, their team to achieve visibility.
Organisations need to support working parents, encourage the taking of parental leave by both men and women and support peoples careers during the most challenging years of parenting so that they can progress to more senior roles in the organisation and not be sidelined. Our own experiences is that parental transition (maternity and paternity), career and women into leadership coaching provide very practical support to people as they navigate through these transitions.