There has been some discussion on family-friendly work environments, urging some to be “more supportive” of those with families. How then, can we create a work environment that actually placates the business, the employers, and the employees alike?

First, I am supportive of those with kids. It is always happy to see parents with well-disciplined and sensible kids, in a mutually nurturing and nourishing relationship. When I walk about town sometimes, it is always wonderful to see some families (parents and their children) walking about in a mutually joyful and binding relationship. Kids are not an extension of ourselves, but they can be great bridge-builders in the tapestry of society and populations.

Second, the typical work environment is getting leaner due to increasingly competitive business arenas with more sharks and less fish, and everyone has to step in to do extra work, to keep the whole ship afloat. This is evident in large and small businesses alike. Every business is in the arena to make a sensible profit with as little resources as necessary – it is not a charity (and even charities are running lean). Every cent counts, every ounce of output must be quantified, and every bit of the business process finely optimized, both internally by the business, and externally by the customer and stakeholders. This is simply a reflection of the maturing business ecosystem and the worsening economic climate. It is not personal.

Therefore, although simply urging employers and co-workers to be “more supportive” is a nice thought, what must go on to enable such a thought to materialize?

First, the employers should be able to move employees around, to fit those who must be in the office often, and move those who can work less hours in the office. For example, if you are a receptionist, or a secretary, or a frontline bank officer, or even a busy account executive, it is difficult to assume someone else can pick up where you leave off. Therefore, employees who prefer flexible work hours or part-time employment may need to be assigned or re-assigned to jobs that can still function with a flexible or part-time work hours arrangement. For example, a telephone- or computer-centric technical support role, a job requiring massive typing output, or research and report generation roles, are some possibilities. But of course, such jobs must first exist in the organization, and not all jobs can have part-time or flexible hour arrangements.

Second, the compensation must be equitable with output. If a job is simply typing whole day, the output is the same in the office or at home. Although admittedly, the home offers more distractions to the average person, and not everyone has nerves of steel to be disciplined enough not to be distracted at home. But some jobs cannot have a reasonable output when performed outside the office, such as a frontline office job. Therefore, if a person works in a job that must be performed in the office, he/she must be reassigned if an alternative job exists within the organization. If there is an option to work lesser hours, the employee must accept an equitable pay that commensurates with the lesser hours and output, since someone else in the organization has to take up the missing hours and work. And employees who take up the missing hours, may be compensated accordingly. This will make the remuneration an acceptable and equitable option that is transparent to all co-workers and they can see at least a financial reason to do extra work.

Here’s a bit of psychology. The more we see someone, the more impressions such a person leaves on us. This works for both employers and employees alike. It may therefore become apparent that some employees may move faster ahead with more recognition simply because they are more “seen” by bosses, co-workers, clients, suppliers, media, and other stakeholders.

It is therefore a personal choice of “family or career”. One should prioritize one’s goals in life and not simply assert to have the cake and eat it at someone else’s expense or effort. One can certainly have a family and build a career, but has to necessarily accept that it means compromises made to either the family or the career, or both. If one prefers to build a family, the family has to come first. Children are far too important to be left to their own devices at the early stages, even as we can cede some responsibility to them as they begin to grow up and mature.

If we have genuine hope in kids maturing to be sensible adults with a positive influence to society, should we not give our all to them throughout their formative years?