By Mike Mulvihill
If you work in the PR industry, you already know that seven out of 10 of your co-workers are women. And if you’ve been paying attention to the state of higher education, you also know that this isn’t likely to decline anytime soon – for every male college graduate this past year there were 1.35 women graduates.
As a fully participating father of three, I can attest that while much has changed in the male-female parental responsibility scheme in recent decades, the undeniable truth is that moms bear more of the responsibility/burden/joy of childbirth and child rearing than do men. And, therefore, women are more impacted professionally by family responsibilities. Which means the PR industry is among the most impacted professions when it comes to work-family balance and work policies that allow women to feel successful at home and at work.
At our firm, we have found that a generous maternity leave policy combined with a gradual return to work and a telecommuting/work from home policy for full-time and part-time staffers serve as effective tools in achieving high retention, work satisfaction and productivity levels.
Much of the need for flexible work schedules is exacerbated by the fact that work and school schedules just don’t jive. As pointed out in an excellent Atlantic Magazine article last week by Anne-Marie Slaughter, it is extremely difficult for working parents to deal with school schedules that mean you can’t drop your child off at school and get to work before 9:30 a.m. or make all of the mid-day/early afternoon events, recitals, field trips and class presentations that only a stay-at-home parent can schedule into their day on an ongoing basis. (Your nanny may be able to, but you can’t.) That is unless your company offers telecommuting/work from home/ flexible work schedules that allow you to fit in enough of these formative years’ events while keeping up with your clients, projects and conference calls.
Unfortunately, a new survey by Citrix (CTXS), the Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) company that paradoxically designs technology for employees to work remotely, may throw some cold water on already latent suspicions that not everyone who works from home is working. Based on a survey of 1,013 American office workers, conducted in June by Wakefield Research, 43 percent said they watch TV or a movie and 20 percent play video games while officially working from home. Another 24 percent admit to having a drink. Twenty-six percent say they take naps. Others are distracted by housekeeping: 35 percent do household chores; 28 percent cook dinner. (One could argue that this isn’t much different from time spent socializing at work or wandering around the internet at your desk.)
Yet despite all the distractions, telecommuters are actually more productive than their peers in the office, according to preliminary findings from a Stanford University study.
Despite its more dire findings, the Wakefield survey also suggests that employers may be missing a low-cost way to give workers something of value. Sixty-four percent of survey respondents who haven’t worked remotely “identify at least one extremely popular perk or pleasure they’d be willing to give up in order to work from home just one day a week.”
I am not a telecommuter at the moment, but I do have a flexible work schedule. And I can attest I often get more work done from home, sometimes during the day but more likely between 10 p.m. and midnight, than I did all day at the office. Granted, the work I get done at the office is more about motivating, leading and dealing with people which is best done face-to-face and is different from the work I get done at home. That said, even in an intensely client service profession such as PR, there is plenty of room for intelligent telecommuting policies that leverage available technology to keep staffers in contact with co-workers and clients while allowing them to be more fulfilled at home and at work. Most importantly, such policies require trust on the part of employers and accountability on the part of employees to assure all that these policies are working.
Smart firms will recognize that if you want to keep your best and brightest employees, you need to find ways to trust employees to manage their time efficiently, as well as their client and co-worker relationships effectively under flexible work schedules that allow mom or dad to be a success both at home and in the workplace.