Let’s make a family-friendly workplace
Every organization should find flexible solutions that look like their employees – solutions that help to balance work, family and leisure time. There are many possibilities and the benefits are obvious. An employee whose work is flexible, feels well and is efficient.
The morning in Aleksi Koskinen’s family starts off unexpectedly. His wife is not feeling well because of her recent sinus surgery.
– So right away I had to make some changes: I had to take our 4-year old child to daycare, and I postponed going to work by 30 minutes. It didn’t even cross my mind that there was anything so special about this until you asked about the possible arrangements for the day, says Koskinen, who works as the sales manager at Lyyti.
Koskinen didn’t even have to inform his supervisor, the main thing is that the work gets done. Lyyti is an enterprise that sells event-management software to organizations. It was founded in 2007.
For the best of the workers and the enterprise
Flexible arrangements are a means of balancing the employee’s work, family and private life. Lyyti is a good example of an enterprise where numerous flexible solutions are available. They are part of everyday work culture which gives individuals power, but also responsibility.
A family-friendly work culture is gaining ground also in male-dominated enterprises.
Anna Kokko is the acquisitions manager of the Family Federation of Finland. She says that the example set by Lyyti illustrates the development of family friendliness. Its first steps were taken at Finnish workplaces at the beginning of 2010. Kokko leads the organization’s project on “Gender equality and the role of fathers”, and has participated in developing the family-friendly workplace programme.
– At the beginning of the millennium, very few recruitment ads mentioned that their workplace was family-friendly. Today it’s an important part of the employer brand, she points out.
A family-friendly approach is of interest to enterprises also because it is one way of supporting the employee’s work capacity, coping at work, and productivity.
Flexible solutions include the family
The concept of family has become more verstile after the era of the traditional nuclear family. A couple of years ago, when the Family Federation of Finland asked employees who their family members were, people included also their ex-spouses, siblings, friends and pets.
Kokko says that this is seen at workplaces in different ways, depending on how the family concept is understood in the organization.
In some enterprises, like Lyyti, employees are free to work remotely – for example, when a pet is sick, or an aged family member who lives far away needs help.
– The family is much more than the children, for instance, we have several employees who don’t have children but own a dog, says Susanna Joki, who handles international sales at Lyyti. Personnel manager Emmi Rahkonen adds: We can be our genuine selves and even come to work with a dog. She believes that well-being should be a part of all aspects of life.
Some time ago the Joki family’s dog was hit by a car, and the whole family were really upset. For a while the dog’s critical condition was of top priority for everyone. So Susanna Joki’s supervisor told her it was perfectly alright to stay at home for a few days.
The Lahti Energia enterprise, which produces electricity and district heating, started to promote the family-friendly approach more actively when the enterprise’s financial director Marjut Kurvinen was asked by the Family Federation of Finland to participate in the development work. The organization was planning a project on “Gender equality and the role of fathers”, which focuses on achieving a more equal and father-friendly culture at workplaces. The Finnish Work Environment Fund is the main sponsor of the project.
Work time arrangements and various leaves are of primary importance.
– This is important because many of our employees will soon be retiring, and the competition for new employees is tough in Southern Finland. People in their twenties and thirties often appreciate leisure time and time spent with the family more than we older people. Many of us have been quite work-oriented, says Kurvinen, whose two children are already grown-up. Kurvinen refers to Janne Nummela, who is the organization’s systems specialist.
Nummela agrees with Kurvinen.
– Young people expect employers to take the workers’ families into consideration. All of my men friends of my age have made use of all available paternal leaves, says Nummela. He himself has cared for their children, aged 2 and 5 years, also during parental leaves, which parents can share between themselves as they wish.
Esa Tepponen, production manager of Lahti Energia, says that positive changes have been achieved among the the power plant employees: three fathers have recently been on paternal leaves of at least one month, and Tepponen has made the arrangements concerning substitutes and work tasks. The employees talk freely about their families and free time, including pets.
When Tepponen’s own children were born, he was on paternal leave for just a few days. In those days fathers were not encouraged to go on leaves.
– Some say they wouln’t want to change even one day in their past, but I certainly would like to change some days, says Tepponen. During the interview he has said many times that his family comes first.
Still work to be done on achieving gender equality
Lahti Energia’s toolbox on family friendliness contains different kinds of leaves and work time arrangments, such as paternal and maternal leaves and parental leave, leave of absence, flexitime, part-time work and remote work. Also break exercises on video are now shown three times a week, as groups can’t meet in person due to Covid-19.
Kokko is pleased that family friendliness is increasingly valued also in male-dominated enterprises like Lahti Energia, because it is a question of gender equality. Parents must be able to choose maternal, paternal and parental leaves freely, without being criticised for their choices. Families are different in regard to their needs.
– If a mother informs her employer that she will stay home for six months to take care of her newborn baby, after which the father will stay home to take care of the child, her workmates may be surprised and say, “Wow, isn’t that something!” Paternal leaves are still very untypical, says Kokko.
Anna Kokko believes that when fathers start to go more on family leaves of at least six months, then also the one-sided “care burden” weighing on women’s work careers will decrease.
Different job descriptions, different flexi-solutions
The managements of organizations may wonder what they should do to ensure a family-friendly workplace. Kokko says that each organization should plan its own toolbox, because the possibilities depend on many things. These include for instance the line of business, different job descriptions, type of work, the work culture and family concept as seen in the organization.
– Ensuring equality within the same job description and among people in a similar life situation is important. An example of individual workshift planning is that if the previous year a person has worked on Christmas Eve, then this year the work on Christmas Eve will be done by someone else, Kokko says.
The types of job descriptions affect the flexibility of the solutions at Lyyti and at Lahti Energia.
An 8-hour work day sometimes requires a bit of balancing.
The members of sales teams at Lyyti can choose more freely between their work time and leisure time, whereas the customer service people cannot because their work day is fixed, 9 am to 6 pm, due to the nature of the work. However, they have flexible project days, when they are even able to go outside to walk or jog in the middle of the day. And remote work is possible in all jobs.
– Before the Covid-19 pandemic, I visited the Helsinki office every week. I often attended three meetings in a row, and then my work day lasted from 7 am to 7 pm. So it was possible to do a shorter day on Friday. Flexibility works both ways, says Koskinen.
Whenever the work permits, flexible solutions are possible also at Lahti Energia. But changing the scheduling of the power plant workers’ shifts can sometimes be difficult. Flexible solutions are easier to arrange for office employees.
The founders of Lyyti, Petri Hollmén and Rami Peltonen, have calculated that an 8-hour work day on average should be sufficient, but at times some fixing is needed. We have been so focussed on developing many new projects during the autumn that it hasn’t always been possible to keep to timetables.
– This enthusiasm must be restrained from time to time, because when the enterprise shows flexibility, also its workers want to be flexible and give back more in return. If this continues long enough, it can affect coping at work negatively, Rahkonen says. He has two children, aged 6 and 8.
Susanna Joki recognizes herself from Rankonen’s description. She pictures herself as a dedicated worker who wants her conscience to be clear. Joki keeps detailed count of her working hours on Excel.
When Joki started working at Lyyti 1.5 years ago, she accepted meeting requests on her e-mail in the evenings. The next day her supervisor started the meeting by pointing out that Lyyti employees don’t have to work in the evenings. But occasionally Joki does work in the evening in line with her job description, because she has to contact clients even in the USA. At such times her husband looks after their 3-year-old child.
Communication and the management in key role
A family-friendly culture has been built from scratch at Lyyti, whereas the starting point at Lahti Energia has been different. How has the change been carried out in an organization of about 200 employees, where family friendliness was not a priority earlier?
– Well, we haven’t hyped about family friendliness, but have rather described different flexible solutions and given our employees opportunities to use them. We have also encouraged fathers and mothers to talk openly about their positive experiences, stresses Kurvinen.
Numerous videos and podcasts have been produced as a result of the cooperation with the Family Federation of Finland.
– Communication plays a central role in implementing change. It has to be true and in line with what has been done and what is being done. Also the example set by supervisors and the management is important, says Kokko.
At Lahti Energia there are several fathers on the executive team who demonstrate their role as fathers, and who have been on family leaves. Also Tepponen, the father of 8- and 10-year old children, is a member of the executive team.
– We have a very positive family-oriented climate these days, Nummela believes.
– The groundwork has been laid for family friendliness, but there is still a lot to be done, Kurvinen summarizes.