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Workplace Policies Impact On Family Stress Social Work Essay

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Parents, both mothers and fathers, are greatly affected by the strain between family and work roles. This is called work-family conflict, defined as strain between family and work roles due to difficulty balancing demands. The current work organization does not accommodate a family structure that includes two working parents, despite that this family unit is becoming increasingly common. Because of the current work structure's inflexibility towards family life it is difficult, particularly for mothers, to stay within the workforce if they want any time with their children. Since mothers are still viewed by society as the primary caregivers and raisers of children, being a mother damages the reputation of a full-time employee. It is common for mothers to be forced into working part-time or leaving their careers altogether due to the inability to follow a strict work policy while taking care children. Although going to part-time is an option that is sometimes available to parents within the current workforce, part-time carries a negative stigma that leads to a lack of benefits, low wages, and less to no opportunities for promotion. To try to decrease family-work conflict several companies have started to add family-friendly policies and benefits. Family-friendly policies and benefits, while a step in the right direction, also produce some problems within a work environment that doesn't feel family-friendly. The job market needs to incorporate employee importance and value family within its mission to foster an environment that allows parents to feel comfortable to take advantage of the family-friendly benefits provided for them. Other options that tend to decrease work and family strain are family supportive supervisors and mentors. Supervisors who are supportive of family time for their employees and exercise their own rights to use these policies will increase the likelihood that employees will follow their lead. Mentors can either be very beneficial or aggravate work-family conflict. The factor that decreases work-family conflict is flexible hours, job-sharing, and part time jobs that provide equally-portioned wages and benefits. The few companies that have achieved a family-friendly environment and provide their employees policies, benefits, and flexibility increase their efficiency, productivity, and overall work performance. Work organization needs to be restructured to accommodate working parents and decrease the effects of work-family conflict.

The current workforce is not structured for families that differ from the traditional nuclear family. As a result, single parent families, families caring for an elder, families with two working parents, and all the other variations suffer from the current workforce that does not accommodate their family and personal life outside of work. The structure of the workplace today is based off the concept of a "breadwinner," typically a male, working long hours to provide for his family and a "housekeeper," typically a female, raising and caring for the children and house. One of the largest obstacles that prevent the workforce from accommodating and restructuring to meet parents' needs is society's view of labor. Ann Crittenden, author of The Price of Motherhood, states "This is the primary distinction between 'women's work' and 'men's work': men are paid for most of the work they do and women aren't" (77). In an economy based on monetary wealth, this distinction causes women's work to be ignored and unvalued by society.

Working parents within the current workforce face several different challenges because of assumptions made by society. Crittenden states "The stage was set for the assumption-still with us-that men 'supported' their wives at home, as if unpaid work were not productive and not part of the 'real' economy" (47). This idea that men are the supporters and women are completely dependent upon them leads the workforce to be based off this idea that men should be the parent within the workplace. With the increase of women within the workforce, including mothers, there is a conflict created between a woman's responsibility between the workplace and the home. Working mothers are increasingly entering the workforce while still being expected to complete all of the household chores and raise the children. This expectation creates stress and a great need for work flexibility. The current option that allows mother's to successful keep up with the home and children while still working is part-time jobs. Although part-time work allows parents the time they need for family, there are several disadvantages in working part-time.

Parents who work part-time give up the benefits, a large portion of their wages, and opportunities for promotion they would have had if they had decided to work full time. Part-time jobs normally do not offer any benefits including health insurance, vacation, and retirement funds. Part-time workers do not earn an equal portion of the wages they would make as a full-time employee. Crittenden argues "As a result, nonstandard workers earn on average about 40 percent less an hour than full-time workers, and about half of that wage gap persists even for similar workers in similar jobs" (97). Part-time employees are not considered dedicated or serious about their occupation and thus are not usually considered for promotions or other opportunities for advancement. Part-time jobs do not provide working parents with options to improve their situation. Because of the increase of parents within the workforce, several companies have created family-friendly policies and benefits to help increase parents' options within the workforce.

Family-friendly policies and benefits can provide employees with resources that aid working parents in balancing family and work. These policies are becoming more popular because of the increase of working parents, particularly mothers. Tammy D. Allen, the author of "Family-Supportive Work Environments: The Role of Organizational Perceptions," states "In response to these changes, many organizations have implemented programs or policies designed to help accommodate the needs of today's diverse workforce" (414). Family-friendly benefits include onsite child-care/child-care aid, leaves of absence, or flexible work schedules. These benefits are meant to relieve employees stress related to the work-family conflict and in doing so improving employee's attitude, work performance, and overall morale. Although family-friendly benefits have become more common within workforce policies, traditional work environments can prevent employees from using family-friendly benefits.

The current work force provides purely work-related support; the lack of value of family life within the work organizational norms can deter employees from using family-friendly benefits and policies. "Likewise, individuals who take advantage of these options, and thus visibly demonstrate interest in family and personal life, may face negative judgments regarding their lack of commitment to the organization" (Allen 415). The possible negative effects, such as losing a promotion or damaging their relationship with their supervisor, cause employees to be concerned about the implications of exercising their right to use family-friendly benefits. For companies to reap the benefits of having family-friendly policies they must first provide a work environment that values and supports employees both within and outside of work. An important factor in switching from a traditional work environment to a family-friendly atmosphere is the supervisor.

The supervisor is key to fostering a family-friendly work environment. The supervisor's attitude towards family can greatly influence the employee's degree of comfort in their usage of family-friendly benefits. Supervisors and coworkers also play a part in family-work conflict through providing each other support by social interactions. Nielson at el., authors of "The Supportive Mentor as a Means of Reducing Work-Family Conflict," state "Social support refers to the interpersonal relationships and social interactions in which functions are provided that help protect individuals from the detrimental effects of stress" (365). Positive socially interactions among supervisors and coworkers decrease the effects family-work conflict. Supervisors who support employee's family and personal lives help employees balance work and family demands and encourage using family-friendly policies to accommodate their responsibilities. Another individual that can potentially aid working parents in decreasing work-family stress and increase their abilities to perform at their job are mentors.

Mentors can influence work-family conflict by how they provide support within the workplace. "Mentoring is commonly defined as a relationship that occurs between a more experienced senior employee-the mentor-and a less experienced junior employee-the protégé" (Nielson at el. 365). There are several advantages of having a mentor including promotion opportunities, increasing job efficiency, networking, salary growth, career success, etc. A mentor is also a role model within a specific context, the workplace of the employee, and thus can be a great source of insight and support. If a mentor supports an active family life, he or she can increase a protégé's ability to balance work and family roles within their specific workplace through work efficiency, job satisfaction, and fast development of necessary skills and abilities. One aspect of mentoring that helps decrease work-family conflict is phsyosocial support which includes listening, understanding, and advice given by the mentor. Although having a mentor can create huge advantages and opportunities within the workforce, mentors also have the potential to increase the work-family conflict through their pure concentration on the career path.

Employees with a mentor maybe be held to higher standards or given opportunities that require the employee to focus entirely on work, increasing work-family conflict and stress. "Due to this concentration on increasing the protégé's visibility and proficiency in the work domain, mentoring has the potential to further aggravate work-family conflict for the involved participants" (Nielson et al. 367). The mentor's drive for the protégé to succeed can lead to long hours, increased responsibilities, and increased expectations. This leads to less time spent at home, causing an increased strain between family and work and the inability to successfully fulfill both roles.

The most effective methods to decrease work-family conflict and benefit corporations are flexible work hours, job-sharing, and part-time opportunities with equal benefits and wages. Flexible work hours allow working parents the time to raise and care for their children while decreasing their stress, increasing their productivity and job satisfaction. Job-sharing is a model that allows more than one employee to be responsible for a full-time position. By sharing the work load, both employees have the flexibility to be with their family and to successfully carry on their career. Part-time jobs with equal benefits and wages would allow parents to enjoy vacation time, health insurance, and pension plans in an equal ratio to those in full time positions. Corporations that employ family-friendly models within their workplaces benefit greatly. Crittenden states "Overwork-related stress disorders, absenteeism, and turnover would surely be reduced, and productivity in some cases improved, as a number of French companies have already discovered" (260). These methods are being applied around the world and the benefits to both the employer and employee are evident in the results. These changes are a small step towards restructuring the work force to accommodate working parents.

Family-friendly benefits and family-supportive work environments are vital in restructuring the work force to decrease work-family conflict. Although the current workforce focuses on the traditional nuclear family with only one working parent, with companies realizing the increasing number of duel working parents there will need to be a change to accommodate the employees. Currently the only viable option for working parents who are also responsible for taking care of the home and raising children is part-time work. The disadvantages of part-time jobs discourage working parents, either causing them to give up family life by working full time or forcing them to give up their career. To address this problem and the increase of working parents within the workforce, several companies have implemented family-friendly policies and benefits. Although these benefits decrease the stress caused by work-family conflict, employees worry about taking advantage of these benefits without family-supportive environment. Two factors that can change the environment within the workplace are the supervisor and the mentor. Supervisors can help employees feel more comfortable about using family-friendly benefits if the supervisor supports family time and also uses the policies. Mentors have the ability to aid the protégé by increasing their efficiency within the workforce, allowing the protégé to feel more confident within their position and less stressed. A mentor could potentially increase work-family conflict if the mentor is too demanding of the protégé's time and attention, increasing the protégé's stress and decreasing their time with their family. The most effective and beneficial family-friendly policies are flexible work hours, job-sharing, and part-time jobs with equal wages and benefits. These family-friendly policies in conjunction with family-supportive environments fostered by supervisors and mentors greatly reduce work-family conflict and greatly improve working parents' productivity and satisfaction in the workplace and within the home.


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