What you can do
Even if you work for a company with practices that feel like they're from the 1980s (all work, no play), chances are you're surrounded by a working culture that's at least open to the idea of change.
What and how much you can do to change your working culture depends on what your job is, and who your employers are. If you're a junior clerk working for a lawyer whose family-friendly policies haven't moved on since Victorian times, you're obviously up against it more than if you're a senior manager just back from maternity leave in a company genuinely committed to change. But everyone can try to make some changes.
One London City firm allowed employees to work extra hours early in the week, then take a half-day off on Friday. Although it was designed to help working parents, even those without children welcomed it as a great step forward. In two years, the company turned around a severe recruitment problem and employees who were regularly headhunted said they'd prefer to stay put.
Try some of the following to bring about change in your workplace.
Set up a parents' group
Many companies are willing to think about moving in the right direction, but lack the expertise to know what's needed. What they need is a parents' group - a body of employees who juggle the needs of work and family, and can provide ideas on how to make a real change for working parents.
Getting together a group of like-minded people shouldn't be difficult and you'll find you're a lot stronger together than individually.
Once you've got the beginnings of the group together, talk with managers in your section about what your group could achieve and why it's important. Stress that having the group won't be a threat to the company, but an opportunity to improve morale and production.
Spread the word
Lots of companies have improved productivity and retained skilled personnel because of family-friendly working practices. You can find examples in the trade press, business sections of daily newspapers and from organisations such as Working Families (see Related links).
Collect clippings and show them to the people who count where you work. Display these success stories on notice boards so everyone sees what can be achieved. Also keep copies on file so you can refer to them in meetings.
Be as positive as you can about your situation. Instead of grumbling, explain which things could be better and how. Managers aren't interested in gripes unless they're the preamble to a solution that will improve things for everyone.
The great thing about family-friendly practices is that they work
The great thing about family-friendly practices is that they work - and employers as well as employees benefit from them. All you need to do is work out the strategies and make your case.
On an individual level, encourage those around you who seem to achieve a good work-life balance. If you're in a managerial position, never criticise or allow criticism of a colleague who leaves work at an agreed time for family commitments. This is good family-friendly working, and it should be aspired to!
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