Bernardo M. Villegas
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Business Can Protect the Family

           Together with his emphasis on compassion for the poor and the needy, Pope Francis made numerous references to protecting the family in his various homilies and speeches during his recent trip to the Philippines.  The family continues to be his main concern in the Wednesday audiences that he holds in Rome.  Like all the other Popes who preceded him, he is completely convinced that every society stands or falls with the family.  All sectors of society must contribute to strengthening the family through the appropriate policies at the national level (e.g. by appropriate legislation) or at the micro level (e.g. family-friendly policies adopted by business enterprises)

          I am happy to have received a most valuable publication from the Makati Business Club (MBC).  In a recent Research Report (October 2014), the MBC made known the results of the IESE Corporate Family Responsibility  Survey in the Philippines survey conducted by Dr. Maria Victoria Caparas, an associate professor at the University of Asia and the Pacific, in collaboration with academics from universities from all over the world.  The complete version of the Report, entitled “Flexing the Boundary between Work and Family” can be found in http://www.ifrei.asia/publications.  The results of the Survey, conducted among 411 respondents in the Philippines, showed that 51% of those surveyed find themselves in environments that systematically or occasionally promote work-family balance (18% in enriching environments and 33% in favourable environments).  The remaining 49% perceive their environments as occasionally or systematically hindering the integration of work and family, that is unfavourable (43%) and polluted (6%) environments.

          The work environment is described as “enriching” if it is very positive and favours the integration of work-family-personal life.  These areas enrich each other, achieving a high level of satisfaction and commitment.  From my own experiences as a consultant to many business enterprises, the environment can be enriching if the employers respect the time that parents should devote to their children and family life in general by avoiding excessive overtime work and frequent out-of-town assignments, especially as regards fathers and mothers with young children.  I am impressed with employers who help integrate work with the spiritual life of their employees by providing facilities within the working area for chapels and prayer rooms in which their employees from various faiths can deepen their spiritual life.  An outstanding example of sensitivity to the religious faith of the workers was the initiative of a  non-Christian CEO employing more than 10,000 workers to organize a mass wedding for  Catholic employees, who for one reason or another (mostly economic), were never married in Church.

          The work environment is considered “favourable” if it facilitates the integration of work-family-personal life.  These areas are enriched occasionally, and conflicts which employees have to handle personally, may arise.  This favourable environment is facilitated by the right type of leadership.  As the Research Report concluded:  “Without the support from supervisors, even the most family-friendly of policies will not help.  The supervisor’s role is critical in taking on the department’s outputs, determining staffing levels, allocating the tasks, and approving work scheduling, including leaves…A manager fosters CFR by seeing the value of caring for the family.  He/she respects personal freedom, encourages balance by way of organizing the department, and supports subordinates by facilitating work and family reconciliation using appropriate solutions.”  It is important to distinguish between caring for the family and the caring behaviour of managers who know how to motivate their subordinates in doing their jobs well, thus earning promotions, but may not be supportive of the family responsibilities of the employees.  It is possible, for example, for a manager to offer a subordinate a promotion and relocation, completely oblivious to the implications on the affected person’s family.

          In the unfavourable environments (43% of those surveyed), certain practices occasionally hinder work-family-personal life integration.  These areas routinely enter into conflict.  These may be situations in which it is objectively more difficult  to harmonize work, family, and personal life, such as those people who have to work in night shifts, especially in the booming Business Process Processing (BPO) sector, in security agencies and the hospitality industry.  I would add the seafaring industry in which fathers have to be away for several months or even years on end from their respective families.  In these instances, Corporate Family Responsibility is even more crucial so that the objective hindrances can be counteracted by the appropriate antidotes.  I know of manning enterprises that go out of their way to have frequent meetings with the spouses and children of the seafarers so that they can be given moral as well as educational support when the parents are away.  These companies also facilitate the frequent contacts through Skype and other digital modes of communication so as to lessen the burden of long separation.  Among the BPO enterprises, there are laudable efforts to provide spiritual and psychological counselling to the call center agents who work on night shifts so that they are able to strengthen themselves against such dangers as alcoholism, drug addiction, sexual promiscuity and insomnia.  In fact, I am personally involved with a research team that will help BPO/KPO enterprises to be more sensitive to these needs of their workers.  Not only can these employers help the BPO workers to be more productive in their work.  The high rates of attrition that are already threatening the stability of some of these enterprises may be reduced if  the workers perceive a real interest of their employers in their “integral  human development,” to quote a phrase from the social doctrine of the Catholic Church.

          In the polluted environments (6% of the respondents), the work environment systematically hinders integration among work, family and personal life.  The three areas are systematically in conflict with one another.  In these environments, workers hardly have time to raise children, care for the elderly and other dependents.  Needless to say, in a culture like the Philippines in which the highest priority is given to family welfare, such environments result in worker dissatisfaction, stress, loss of motivation and high turnover intentions.  I sincerely hope that this initiative of IESE, UA&P and the Makati Business Club will eventually reduce to zero the number of enterprises characterized by polluted environments.   For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia