SOUTH African working fathers are entitled to paternity leave for the first time from earlier this year. Companies that offer family-friendly workplaces and employee benefits are more likely to be employers of choice and ensure employee loyalty, performance and talent retention.
It is not just offering benefits that matters, but organisational culture and management support for work-life balance is key to reducing conflict for employees between their work and family lives, leading to more job satisfaction, less stress and risk of burnout, and improved individual and organisational performance. This was the key finding of research at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) ahead of the introduction of a legislated 10 days’ parental leave in South Africa this year.
USB MBA graduate Bernadine de Winnaar said society was increasingly embracing “equal parenthood”, and Generation X and millennials, who make up the majority of the current workforce, were seeking flexibility and benefits relevant to young families where both parents are pursuing careers. She noted that two-thirds of South African professionals reported turning down offers from employers that did not offer a work-life balance and a family-supportive environment. A family-supportive workplace offers flexible work arrangements such as flexi-time hours and the option to work from home.
“For companies to attract and retain talented, high-performing individuals, it is increasingly important to acknowledge that employees have a life outside of work and to show respect for their family commitments. The introduction of paternity leave means that organisations now have even more reason to pay attention to the family needs of both male and female employees,” said De Winnaar.
Work-life balance strategies go beyond simply making benefits available. Organisations should equip managers to understand their contribution to a family-friendly workplace culture and, ultimately, employee engagement and retention. “This is critical for companies as they prepare to implement paternity leave,” she said.
“However, more important than being written into policies is how these benefits are applied and supported by supervisors, managers and colleagues – that is what creates the family-supportive culture that, in turn, influences employees’ commitment to the organisation,” she said. She said the research showed that employees’ perceptions that taking up family-related benefits wouldn’t have negative consequences in the workplace were associated with higher levels of commitment and attachment to the organisation, and made employees less likely to look for greener pastures.
“A family-supportive company culture reduces the stress-inducing conflict for employees between their work and home obligations, lowering the risk of burnout, and is ultimately beneficial to the employer in retaining employees able to continue at peak performance,” she said. De Winnaar’s research focused on working-class parents in South Africa in relation to their family commitments. “Much of the research on work-family balance in the western world (the US, Europe, and Scandinavian countries) has focused on middle- to upper-class families and university graduates. The South African context is vastly different in terms of our political system, our economy and our multicultural, multiracial society.
She surveyed full-time male and female employees in the hospitality industry in Cape Town, looking at how their perceptions of a family-supportive environment in their workplaces influenced their loyalty to the company and their ability to balance work and family obligations. She recommended that further research take place across different industries on the connection between a family-supportive workplace and employees’ commitment to the organisation, as well as on the effectiveness of corporate programmes supporting a work-family balance.
“The relationship found between management recognition and support of employees’ family responsibilities, the reduction of conflict between work and family obligations, and an increase in employee commitment has practical implications for organisational policies and employee well-being,” said De Winnaar. The research highlighted the importance of organisations developing sound policies to support a family-friendly workplace that is sensitive to social issues affecting different groups of employees.
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