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In the era of the #metoo movement, there are many voices suggesting that organisations should actively manage the power relationships between employers, managers and staff to avoid situations of potential abuse. Organisations are seeking to prohibit inappropriate behaviours and relationships as well as define boundaries of permitted intimacy.
It is a tricky tightrope to walk and the new social norms are still evolving. Clearly the pendulum needed to swing from a situation where people could use their power to force others into unwanted relationships or abusive contact.
Some organisations have decided to write into staff contracts who you can date and who you cannot. In October 2019, for example, the CEO of global fast food franchisor McDonalds was sacked because he chose to have a consensual relationship with a woman within the same organisation.
But I think that there is a much more subtle, more pervasive and ultimately more damaging culture which mean employers control your love life. I was very disturbed by a story I read recently of a lady who felt she could only successfully pursue her career in a law firm by bringing somebody into her home to take on the responsibilities of parent and wife. This is becoming more pervasive. More and more workplaces are demanding that you are available as and when required. Supermarket chain ASDA, for example, is enforcing new contracts that roster you at any time of the day or night, in any role. Similarly, in the care sector, rostering is done for the convenience of the roster manager. You may not know where and when you are required to work less than a week (sometimes just a day) before your shift.
The effect is that employers take control of your capacity to have relationships with other people. Your children, your partner, your parents, your friends: all have to come second to the work culture or policies of your workplace. You are unable to plan your life, your relationships, your time with family and friends, because you are at the beck and call of work.
Too many employers not only feel they can choose whom you have a relationship with, but also whether you can have a relationship with anybody. Either their policies require, or your career advancement depends on, constant availability. In effect, you are forced to choose whether to maintain a job, build a career, or nurture relationships with those important to you.
Sacrificing your right to a family life
When the Sunday trading laws where changed in the UK bringing, almost unrestricted retailing on a Sunday, the freedom to shop trumped the right to a shared day off. The right to family life is a fundamental human right recognised by the European Convention on Human Rights. But too many employers have policies, contracts or just processes of assessment and advancement that deny people the opportunity to have a family life.
Such policies effect even the best paid professionals. I remember a time when I was working for a global professional services firm. You were expected to work a ‘three, four, five work pattern’. Three nights away (Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday night). Four days at the client site (which in the US could be in a different state, in Europe could be a different country) and a fifth day back in the office. Five days of working was just the minimum standard. When you were away from your family and friends, working extended hours was not rewarded with time off in lieu. It was necessary to meet key performance indicators for chargeability and fee recovery or unrealistic project deadlines.
It would not have been unusual to fly out on a Sunday afternoon in order to be in place for Monday morning. Some team members would switch to a bi-weekly cycle. One of the weekends was away from home: just to reduce travel. If you were not prepared to buy into that workstyle then your opportunities for advancement were severely limited.
A colleague of mine left to build a new consultancy on the principle of enabling people to work locally. He wanted to create a culture where they had very good people, but they weren’t expected to spend substantial periods of time away from home tied to the sites of their clients. This commitment was baked into the culture from day one. His business was very successful and attracted a lot of staff who left professional services firms because they were no longer prepared to buy into the ‘Martini workstyle’ (any time, any place anywhere).
What is your workstyle for?
So, what are you doing to assert your human right to a family life?
How often are you challenging the validity of the employment contract that you are offered against the standards of the right to a family life?
How often are you, as an employer, for what may seem like good business reasons, expecting flexibility from your employees that actually prevents them from offering their love to the people that they care about most?
How much are you contributing to the dislocation in our society where people are unable to care for their elderly parents, where children feel orphaned because both parents are absent at work and where they are denied the opportunity to step out and care for a neighbour or a long-standing friend?
How many of your staff can never find the time to build a lifelong relationship with somebody they can love? Are you intentionally or blindly building a business that demands a workstyle that fractures all the bonds of lasting relationships?
In the winter season Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year are seen as time for families and friends. In February we look to Valentine’s Day as a focus for love. Is the sad truth that your workstyle means that family time is just a prelude for divorce [solicitors report January as a peak month for divorce consultation]? And does your workstyle allow you to truly love that person who you want as your Valentine?
2nd Half Career
As you think about the second half of your working life, are you ready to work to live rather than live to work? Find out more about a future as a Portfolio Executive, and the programmes and support we offer here.
Charles McLachlan is the founder of FuturePerfect and on a mission to transform the future of work and business. The Portfolio Executive programme is a new initiative to help executives build a sustainable and impactful second-half-career. Creating an alternative future takes imagination, design, organisation and many other thinking skills. Charles is happy to lend them to you.