How work is failing families
Work is one of the pillars of society upon which communities and nations are built. From the beginning of time there was work. I believe work was intended to occupy humankind with meaningful occupation, interaction and production; however, it can also place a huge strain on families and households even as it is intended to make way for a better life. Here are just a few of a much longer list of negative impacts of work on families.
1. Increased stress. Some work environments can be very stressful, whether due to workload, toxic relationships, office politics drama or all of the above. The drive to succeed and compete with societal expectations and personal goals can also make work more stressful. With more stress comes health issues and frustration that affect the family negatively. Who hasn’t gone home from a work day or work week feeling drained or angry? Who doesn’t feel guilt for all the long hours at work to the detriment of loved ones? Who suffers: the hardworking person themselves, the child that is looking for time, attention or other basic needs, or family members. Additionally, the spouse/partner who is looking for the same thing and their significant other has nothing to give, wants to be left alone or lashes out at the people that love them also feels the pinch. The mental, emotional, and physical demands of work can be so great and those that participate in it must find ways to de-stress so it doesn’t have a detrimental effect on them personally or on their families.
2. Child care options. Child care and supervision are a major challenge for working families. If there is no trusted extended family member who can assist, or a spouse/partner that is willing to sacrifice their career for a while to stay at home, then working parents are hard pressed to find child care options that match the demands of work. Most schools offer a limited time of after school care. What about the parents that work night shifts and overnight shifts? What about parents who are deployed away from home for extended periods of time? When options are limited, working parents must either miss work, leave children in the care of older siblings or family members, or leave them alone. The worry, concern, and risk this creates for the parent makes it challenging for them to be fully productive and engaged at work causing performance issues. As the demand for services increases so does the need for staff to facilitate them. Don’t we all need the 24-hour gas stations, pharmacies, security and surveillance, restaurants, parking garages etc.? Someone has to be at work to make it happen. Who is taking care of their homes? Further to this, with automation and artificial intelligence to fill the gap if that is the organization’s choice to address this, it replaces human labor giving rise to unemployment, underemployment, poverty, crime, abuse and more.
3. Missed moments. The New Zealand’s Ministry of Social Development’s 2009 study on Parent’s Long Work Hours and the Impact on Family Life cites: “Other impacts for some families included not having family holidays together, children being less able to take part in other activities, an inability to spend special occasions together, a faster pace of life, and much of the family “quality time” being spent in the car.”
As someone who has worked in human resources and hospitality for most of my life I have seen and experienced the missed moments work can cause. In The Bahamas, the ‘school pick up’ phenomenon is real. Between 2 pm and 4 pm there is a mass exodus of parents going to pick their children up from school grounds. Some parents can’t leave their jobs to do this for various reasons including workload, distance, traffic, or a short meal period. You can’t go far on a 30 minute lunch break. I have heard of employees being denied requested days off or vacation to be a part of a special moment for a child. It is crushing for them. What if your shift begins in the wee hours of the morning? Who will get children ready for school and drop them off? What about spouses/partners where one works a morning shift and the other works a night shift? They become ships passing in the night and if they have children, one of them will bear the brunt of having to be present in every way for them while the other is at work. This causes strained relationships between the parents and with the children who feel they have to compete for their parent’s time, energy, and full attention.
“Two-parent working families may have more money, but material things and access to costly activities are no substitute for a parent’s time,” according to HealthyChildren.org.
The positive outcomes of work are many but so are the negative impacts. The divide becomes whose responsibility is it to create happiness and healthy homes? Yes, it is the adults’ responsibility but when faced with the cost of living, expense of households, consumer demands, and the myriad of other issues, it is not surprising that not only companies amend their policies to show greater sensitivity to how work affects employees and their families but nations do as well. Countries, recognizing how this can affect social ills in communities, have adjusted legislation related to mandatory hours of work, family leave, education, child care, wellness and health care just to name a few – all to help the working professional maintain better balance and support for their work and personal life.
• Simmone L. Bowe, MSc, SPHRi, is a seasoned human resource and organization development consultant & trainer, speaker, author, personal development coach, mentor, and activist who focuses on helping business owners, leaders and professionals ‘live limitless’ by identifying purpose & vision, aligning to purpose through authenticity, and breaking free of limiting mindsets and practices. For comments, queries, strategic solutions, and bookings, email firstname.lastname@example.org.