Enriching relationships evening at PricewaterhouseCoopers – February 2007.
Some feedback from the discussion groups:
The questions that 10 couples coming from a variety of employers in and near Edinburgh sought to answer were:
- How far should an employer take an interest in the enrichment of his/her employees’ relationships?
- What is the business reason for doing so, or not doing so?
- What practical steps could employers consider taking to support their employees in this area?
In our feedback time, I heard the following (but any mistakes are mine!):
- Q2 needs to be answered before Q1, said one group. If there is no business reason for an employer to take an interest in the enrichment of his/her employees’ relationships, then the employer should not take an interest.
- Business reasons however may include:
- When an employer takes an interest in the enrichment of his/her employees’ relationships, the interest shown and the care and help offered may make for married employees – over the long haul – needing less time, attention and resource than they might otherwise.
- A cost benefit analysis would probably show that when an employer takes an interest, costs to the employer are diminished – even eradicated – where they may otherwise be incurred, e.g. absenteeism is lower, stress levels go down, and productivity increases commensurately. Happy, stable employees are generally productive employees.
- So, how far should an employer in fact take an interest? Answer: The employer should take not only a reactive interest, i.e. when a problem has arisen, but also a proactive interest, as in being preventative, and most especially by heading off major crises where the employer may be, if only in part, a contributor to the crises. Take, for instance, employees working long hours week after week and this putting a strain on relationships in personal life: the employer should be aware of such a work pattern building up and intervene to adjust it before it causes a crisis at home.
However, the employer, said some, must also be careful not to take an ‘over interest’ i.e. the employer needs fully to respect and give space to the employee. The employer should be aware of people’s primary relationships, attentive, and only gently enquiring, certainly not interrogating. People’s privacy, their private life, must be respected.
Said one group: not only is over interest potentially an abusing of the employee, but placing over responsibility for people’s private lives on the line manager or employer is potentially an abusing of the line manager/employer.
In all, the employer should be sensitive, available, sympathetic and willing to be helpful, but must be mindful that people have a right to a personal life and may not welcome an over interest on the part of the employer.
So the answer to the question: how far should an employer take an interest in his/her employees’ relationships? seemed to be:
- in so far as there is a business case to do so, and there usually is one, and:
- commensurate with the need to respect people’s privacy.
I would also wish to add:
- The employer has a duty of care. He/she should be proactive and act in the employee’s best interest where there is a danger of overwork resulting in not only strain on the individual but also on his/her key relationship(s) at home. The employer should not remain passive when a key relationship of an employee is threatened by anything the employer may be bringing about – or indeed by any other factor the employer may become aware of. I am thinking here of the employer who becomes aware of the employee regularly resorting to the local pub after work and there imbibing more than the recommended alcohol intake. The employer cannot presume to remain indifferent to this behaviour straight after work.
- One group highlighted that it can be useful to make the distinction between day to day line management practices on the one hand, and the corporate body’s general approach on the other. The former may be called everyday practice, the latter corporate culture. Of course, the two are connected, e.g. everyday practice will be a reflection of the corporate culture (by which we mean the de facto corporate culture, whatever the public and PR face of the company may claim it is).
To get everyday practice fundamentally to change across the board needs a change in corporate culture. So, if a long-hours work pattern has become endemic, there needs to be a change in the corporate culture, not just in the arrangements between one line manager and his/her employee.
- An interesting real-life case was cited from first-hand experience. A thrusting financial services Company (which we shall not name here) provided life coaches for many of their staff. By the employer’s laying on these 1 to 1 sessions, individual employees became aware that the employer was showing care for them, including their work-life balance. It came to the notice of senior managers that right across the staff there was a concern about life-work balance. To give the employer credit, a corporate cultural change was made as a result. By proactively responding to employees’ growing concern about their life-work balance, the employer had a positive effect on marriages and family life across the workforce.
- Coming now to the third question: what practical steps could employers consider taking to support their employees in the area of their relationships? Employers can:
- be proactive about becoming aware
- be flexible, e.g. invite the employee after several long days to take ½ day off
- challenge any individual’s long-hours work pattern as well as any corporate long-hours culture
- broker access to experts and organisations who may be of help
– internet sites
- foster a culture of mutual interest and help among staff, thus pre-empting crises
- obtain employees’ permission in principle to ask gentle questions that may be helpful
- support and encourage a good social life at work
- make space for whole family social events, to include partners and children
- when offering high performance rewards, acknowledge the person’s relationship (and the partner’s indirect contribution) by sending the star employees away not on their own but with their partners
- include information about the employer’s philosophy/the corporate culture in the staff handbook and encourage the employees to hold the employer/the corporate entity and their own section leaders to account
- outline the Company’s policy on enhancing wellbeing, including where they are supportive of steps that individual employees may take to nurture and enrich their relationships
- encourage a culture of praise and affirmation/appreciation, e.g. line managers can give praise wherever it is due, and if an employee puts in an outstanding effort, e.g. over a Saturday which ‘costs’ the person’s partner and family, the line manager may like to give the employee a gift with which to take the family to a restaurant.
- In conclusion:
I deduced that a wise and responsible employer will always take a proactive interest in the maintenance and enrichment of his/her employees’ relationships, because it is in everyone’s interests – the Company’s (including its clients’), the individual employee’s, and all the employees’.
A fundamental reason why it is good to take an interest, however, is that it is simply morally right to do so, i.e. it is in principle responsible and respectful to do so, as long as the employer is not presumptuous or intrusive. It is a way of looking after your neighbour, in this case an employee/ fellow-worker.
A wise and responsible employer will also take a variety of steps to support their employees in this area – from outlining all manner of resources on the Company’s intranet to proactively encouraging employees to invest quality time in enriching their relationships.
I once worked as a Sales and Export Manager for an international textile conglomerate and put in more days abroad driving around Europe than you would believe, so much so that we applied for the Queen’s Award for Export, but that is another tale. No one ever queried my expense returns; they were just pleased that I was zealous enough to put in all the days and hours possible. However, needless to say this was costly on the personal front, and most especially for my wife back home looking after our infant son. One day my boss suggested that on my next long trip round Scandinavia I should take my wife and son with me at the Company’s expense. I think he thought I might resign if I kept going at the rate I was working… Guess what? I thereby felt able to embark on a three week sales trip instead of just two, and at the end of the three weeks, my expenses were lower than they were when I was on my own for just a fortnight! Value for money or what? Reasons: we stayed with an old school friend in Malmo for some of the time, and moreover my agents couldn’t do enough for us as a family, eg putting us up in a relative’s flat in Stockholm over a weekend. Net results: I benefited, my wife and son benefited, and the Company benefited. A win-win-win, you might say – all thanks to the employer determining to show appreciation and generosity to their employee and his family.