Family is often seen as an obstacle for work and detrimental to personal commitment to an organisation. According to the researchers of Jyväskylä University School of Business and Economics (JSBE), this is not the case, however – on the contrary. In a responsibly led organisation, family-centred values have been put into practice, and flexible arrangements are feasible to all employees and also to their bosses.

Traditionally, Finnish organisations have not been active in developing family-friendly approaches or practices to support the integration of work and family life. Yet, such approaches and practices would be an advantage and competitive asset not only to individuals but also to the whole organisation.

In their recent article, JSBE researchers discuss the integration of family life and work as well as related views in Finnish knowledge-intensive organisations.

According to their study, family-friendly flexibilities do occur on paper and in festive rhetoric but are not necessarily manifested as a natural part of work practice and culture. New generations do not automatically bring along new practices and winds of change to the workplace. Instead, people tend to be socialised into the prevailing practices of the workplace, or as if grow into the prevailing order.

”The change also calls for active efforts from the organisations, supervisors, and HR managers. The pandemic has reorganised work and other areas of life as well as the boundaries thereof – at least in some fields and work tasks. All this is now challenging more strongly the integration patterns of work and family life. Working is now even less bound to a specific time and place”, describes Researcher Suvi Heikkinen from Jyväskylä University School of Business and Economics.

Cross-pressures concern everybody and come often from outside

Heikkinen and her colleagues studied two case organisations: a law firm and an IT corporation. The researchers interviewed altogether 22 persons of different ages, of whom nearly all had children or other care responsibilities. All interviewees were employed in expert posts and working more or less in a 24/7 work environment.

It was found out that the workplace practices were strongly linked to the work-family patterns.

People think that an ideal employee is available to the organisation and reachable to others all the time, including evenings and weekends and also holidays. This is considered a default for a successful career.

Employees are usually expected to be flexible toward the organisation, and on the other hand, this is a terribly difficult thing to dismantle or challenge within the organisations.

”The availability and use of flexible arrangements are steered, for example, by external competition, the image of an ideal employee, and expectations for a successful career. Thus, if an employee makes use of the flexible arrangements available for integrating work and family life, it was considered to be against the norm of a successful employee”, Suvi Heikkinen states.

The interviews indicated that cross-pressures related to the integration of work and family life were experienced at all levels of the organisational hierarchy.

”All members of the organisation, including senior management, should have right to life outside work as well.”

Family does not refer to daily life with young children only

Family-centredness is still seen as associated with care responsibilities and mothers, in particular.

”Within organisations, family matters are often equalled to daily life with young children, which is a very narrow point of view. Many employees are taking care of their own parents or other relatives as well. There are as many different families, responsibilities, and life situations as there are employees”, Suvi Heikkinen points out.

The term mommy tracked refers to a setting where a female employee returning from a family leave, for instance, receives fewer or less demanding work tasks irrespective of her own wishes. The study showed that also many males fear getting trapped to a mommy- track if they would take a longer family leave, for instance.

”Also men would like to be present and share equal responsibility for their families. However, organisations do not fully recognise this as yet, or are unwilling to do so.”

According to Heikkinen, responsibly operating HR management could actively address this particular dilemma.

”From the perspective of an entire work career, for example a family leave is quite a short period – so why not to support this flexible arrangement within an organisation without regarding it as a threat or poor commitment?”

Get latest articles from The University of Jyväskylä’s stakeholder magazine into your email. You can cancel your subscription at any time.