October is National Work and Family Month. I’m guessing for many readers your initial reaction is, “Oh, that’s nice, a month for parents and kids” (assuming you even clicked on this post because you thought it didn’t apply to you).
We tend to think of “work and family” specifically, and work+life fit more broadly, as a nice thing to do, but not critical to the success of all individuals, and employers. This year’s Work and Family Month is the perfect time to set the record straight:
1) Strategic work+life flexibility is a mission-critical issue for the success of every individual, and for the bottom-line global competitiveness of every organization.
We operate in “always on,” “do more with less” reality where change is constant and increasing in frequency. We all need flexibility in where, when and how work is done, both day-to-day flexibility and formal flex plans. We need leaves of absence, and other direct programs and policies that help us to flexibly manage all of the personal work+life transitions—parenting, eldercare, retirement, continuing education, community service, etc—most of us will experience at one time or another.
2) Work and family-related events are a significant part of the broader work+life fit experience, and they apply to all of us. We may not have children, but we all do have family, be it a family of origin or a family of choice. All of us have parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and friends who are going to age and require care. And even if we aren’t parents ourselves, we all have a vested interest (whether we know if or not) in helping our colleagues manage that part of their lives effectively.
Why does it matter? Because as long as work+life fit, and more specifically work and family is considered something nice but not essential, the sense of urgency necessary to envision and execute new strategies, programs, and policies that reflect the realities of today’s world will be absent.
To that end, either we need to redefine what the word “family” means in the context of the broader work+life discussion, or we need to come up with new language that captures the inclusivity. We cannot afford another year without movement on core issues related to work+life flexibility, child care, eldercare, different types of leaves, health care, and retirement. And I’m afraid that will happen if we don’t start thinking and talking about the issues of work, life, and family as being relevant for all.
So, in honor of National Work and Family Month, take a minute to recognize that we all are part of a family, no matter what phase of life we are in. And now that boundaries between work and life no longer exist, the traditional rules regarding care of family in its broadest definition need to be rewritten. It isn’t just a nice thing to do for parents and kids. It’s critical to the success of every person and organization. Happy Work and Family Month!