Retaining staff in a changing environment: Part 3

Retaining staff in a changing environment: Part 3

My last two posts (see here and here) have discussed the implications of a shrinking, increasingly global, diverse and virtual workforce, and the engagement of the baby boomer generation, on the retention of staff. This week we consider changing family structures.

The traditional career was born in an era when men were the primary breadwinners of the family and the partner (usually a woman) stayed at home. Male employees from a traditional family structure could focus all of their energy and time into work because someone else was paying attention to the needs of the family and maintaining the household.

As a result, this has helped shape the expectations we have in the workplace of how dedicated employees should be to their careers if they want to advance to high-level positions in the organisation. In fact, executives – both men and women – at the highest levels of organisations today devote a significant amount of their time to work related activities, which is viewed as expected and necessary.

However, as we know, today this family model is less and less common. In fact, in today’s workplace some figures indicate only 17% of households still reflect the “traditional” structure. With the rise of single parent homes and dual-career couples, the needs of employees have shifted dramatically. Thus the level of worker dedication that has been traditionally expected in order to “get ahead” is practically impossible for employees today, who have to juggle both work and life on a regular basis. Whether it is about managing one’s personal affairs, engaging in leisure activities, volunteer activities, raising children or managing elder care, our personal lives are placing a great deal of time demands on us.

Something has to give – and frequently does. In my experience people are choosing to build a “sustainable” life and career, as opposed to investing too heavily in a particular role and company. Better to be relationally, physically, emotionally, spiritually and financially sound at any point in their lives, than just financially secure in your 50s.

It is an interesting observation that the majority of entrepreneurs between the ages of 35 to 45 are women. Why? Well, many have made the decision to delay starting a family until they are more established in their careers (yes, partly in order to finance that expensive first home with their partner, but also because they can). Subsequent to motherhood, their priorities change and they are looking for more flexible working arrangements. Should they not be interested in going back to the expectations and demands of the pre-baby days, technology acts as an enabler in starting their own businesses with the flexibility they choose.

An example is a large legal practice. They have done an excellent job of balancing their talent pipeline around gender at the senior associate level (just prior to potential partnership). However, only 20% of these women choose partnership when offered. Why? The expectations and demands of being a partner versus the flexibility of balancing priorities.

While my comments have focused on women, increasingly we are seeing men make similar choices. I will explore some possible solutions in a later blog. In the next blog we’ll chat about the implications of these choices, and of “choice” on the organisation.


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