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Helping families thrive

“In a nerdy moment last year, I scanned the Sustainable Development Goals for references to family and families. These words are mentioned only five times in 47 pages (‘fish’ gets 14 and finance/ financial, 43!).” Catherine Hine, CEO of the Family Stability Network (FASTN) writes about the importance of empowering families for a more equal and healthy workplace.

A narrated version of this blog is available at the bottom of the page

When I came across FASTN, and having changed direction completely after having children, I experienced my own rude awakening that will be all-too-familiar to many of us: I realised that the sometimes deeply rooted thought of ‘whatever is going on at home, that’s where it should stay’ needed to be challenged. As CEO of FASTN, there was finally the opportunity to help employers ‘get’ families.    

Covid has brought family home. 2020 was a difficult year in so many ways. Anecdotally, amongst charities working on family issues and relationships, the pandemic has given society a jolt about the importance of family. Society needs to salvage positives from this arduous and often painful time. Recognising the critical role of healthy and dependable families in healthy and caring communities is one of them.

There’s science behind it

Brain science increasingly supports just how important safe, dependable relationships are to everyone. Relationships that we can rely on wire brains for good future life outcomes. For instance, research from Harvard’s Centre of Early Childhood Development highlights the vital importance of supporting families- whatever their shape and size –  to thrive and do their job rather than waiting to pick up the health and wellbeing consequences later if things go wrong.

Family is as family does

Healthy and dependable families are not a question of family structure, number of parents, wealth or sexuality. At their best, families support individuals to be resilient and can be relied upon in good times and bad. Of course, poverty, prejudice, inequality and poorly designed services pose real structural hurdles for too many families, but the majority of families can reconfigure and bounce back from adversity if they have access to the right kind of support.

FASTN recently polled 3,000 UK people who were in their job for at least a year. The polling highlighted the immense complexity and diversity in overlapping family situations and therefore a huge variety of concerns, often not understood by employers.

Only 23% of employees felt that their employer recognised their family situation despite employees feeling that this really mattered to them. For example, although 1 in 11 respondents experienced being a single parent, less than a third of those single parents agreed that their employers offered a living wage and a secure contract recognising family commitments.  

Of those polled, 70% said their family situation had changed during the period of their employment. Only 19% felt that employer practice made any provision for this change.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, employees in more senior or secure roles were significantly more likely to feel that their employers supported their family to thrive. Is that still as true of the sector in which we are leaders?

Are we as employers doing enough to support our employees’ families to thrive? Is this true at all job levels and amongst lower-paid staff? What more could we be doing? Are there any implications for service users, where we have them?

Employees are familied

Almost all respondents in our survey considered themselves in some way ‘familied’. Some 69% said that an employer’s track record on supporting families to thrive would be important if they were looking for work. 

In the past, ‘ideal workers’ were often those who could put the hours in, work more flexibly (from the employer’s perspective), could travel and were able to prevent family incursions into their working life. Do our organisational cultures and practices sometimes still reflect that, I wonder?

The past year has brought into sharp focus that it’s time to raise the bar if we’re going to tackle structural inequalities in the workplace. This includes empowering healthy, dependable families to provide support to their members.  

FASTN’s research emphasized the importance of visible family commitment at senior executive and board levels, alongside more nuanced and responsive actions to enable employees to excel in all family situations.

Are you curious or already passionate about bringing change? Are you up for learning and improving together?

FASTN want to encourage reflection, discussion and action on this issue and I’d love to hear from colleagues and potential partners. Get in touch!

Narrated by a member of the ACEVO staff

Image by rawpixel.com

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