Progressive boards: why not use the Jacinda Arden story to revolutionise “mat leave” in your business?

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“Woman at work with a baby” should not be headline news. Work in the 21st Century must be about integrating home and work life in a manner that does not put work higher than the society it serves. The issue is: how will her employers best support her and her family because they should and not how Prime Minister Arden will cope being prime minister, as if having a baby is somehow an inconvenience.

I posted the paragraph above on LinkedIn last week along with a link to the news story and one person commented as follows: “Work does not ‘serve society’ other than (perhaps) under communism.”

That wasn’t the general view as many people “liked” the post, but I suspect that any talk of work serving society will elicit the communism/socialism challenge from some.

However, these challengers will become increasingly marginalised as the number of high profile “capitalists” write openly about the needs of society. Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, for example, has recently said that “society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose” (The Daily Telegraph, 17th Jan 2017). He is one of many.

It’s now possible to talk about society and business in the same sentence without being branded “a red under the bed”. However, all of this talk will remain just that – talk – until we address the tricky issue that in the current system capital takes priority over all other needs. There must be a mid-point between winner takes all capitalism and the perils of the proven disasters in far left models.

Now the Jacinda Ardern story may give progressive boards the excuse to confront this conundrum head-on. Why not abandon the concept of “leave” altogether? By that I mean, all leave: holiday, compassionate, sick, and that most horrible of all abbreviations “mat (and pat) leave”. The whole concept of being at work versus not at work, which is nonsense. People are people, whether at home or at work.

Why not give everyone a fixed price contract with a job specification that focuses on adding as much value as possible to the organisation? Why not make every effort to create an environment that maximises their chances of doing that? What better way to do that than to understand the personal issues of each employee and to do everything possible to make their lives fulfilling?

What better place to start than to abandon the “working day” to allow people to work with unlimited flexibility depending on their circumstances? Home life would not be a drag on work life – it would come first, with the blessing of the business. Does this sound utterly fanciful to you?

If it does, is that because a) you would like it to be, but believe it can’t be because no one would allow it or b) you believe it can’t be because capital is king and it would all cost too much or c) you believe that work and non-work should be completely separate?

If your board is progressive and wants to experiment with new ways of working because the old ways are no longer fit for purpose I would encourage you, as others have done successfully, to try out new models.

If you and your board feel that capital is king and profit will always trump society’s needs, I understand your view but your board should, if only for risk management reasons, reflect on why the likes of Larry Fink and others are using the “s word”? Do they see something on the horizon that you don’t?

If you and your board feel that the boundaries between work and home life should not be porous, then you must accept that you can’t have it both ways. If you want people to bring their “whole personalities” to work, then you must take their whole lives into account.

If you don’t, they will leave a large percentage of their value “at Reception”, and you will be losing out even before they start working for you. How can you justify that to your board?

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