Bernardo M. Villegas
Articles  >> more topics
Human-Centered Approach to Work (Part 4)

 The human aspiration and value most accentuated by the lockdowns resulting from the pandemic is the priority that should be given to one’s family in the use of one’s time.   At least in traditional cultures in Asia, the family is still considered as the strongest foundation of society.  Unfortunately, the family has been seriously eroded in many Western societies because of the preponderance of divorce, abortion, free sex, the LGBT movement and all sorts of moral aberrations that are still condemned by the three major religions of Christianity, Islam and Judaism.  The greater amount of time that parents and their children were able to spend with one another during these almost two years of the pandemic has opened the eyes of married couples to the need to spend more physical time with their children if they are going to play a major role in their upbringing as mature and responsible adults. After all this while when parents were able to spend a great deal of time with their respective children, It will be difficult, at least in a Christian environment like the Philippines, to tilt back the balance from home to work.

It is in this context that we should heed the advice of Alistair Cox in the same article entitled “The Great Resignation:  Opportunity or Threat” when he wrote: “Consider a hybrid, remote or even a ‘radical flexibility’ approach…I strongly believe that both our homes and our offices play a key role in enabling us all to be productive and feel engaged at work.  I also think that forcing all your people back to the office full-time isn’t going to work in your favor.  As reported by Fortune, an Ipsos survey of 2,700 office workers across nine countries found that more than a third of all office workers would quit if they were forced to go back into the office full time.  It’s therefore far better to consider a hybrid working option—and that’s advice we are regularly giving our own clients now if they want the best talent.”

Mr. Cox, however, makes an important qualification.  He points out that the “work from home” experiment that has unfolded since the beginning of the pandemic has been mostly analyzed only in advanced countries.  Even in these advanced economies, only about 25% of workers can do their jobs three days a week or more without going to the workplace.  People in manufacturing,  a sector that still is predominant in emerging markets, have to be mostly on site.  Citing a very specific case, Mr. Cox tells of an industrial company in which the white-collar staff work in a tower next to a manufacturing facility.  The CEO of this enterprise commented: “I can’t tell the people in the tower it is okay for them to work from wherever they want and at the same time tell the manufacturing people I expect them to return to the plant.”  This would create “us and them cultures” that would surely erode worker’s satisfaction. 

One way of compensating for the disadvantage of the factory workers as regards the time  devoted to the family, which is naturally more available to the white-collar worker, is to take more seriously the advice of St. John Paul II in his encyclical “On Human Work.”  This has to do with what we can call  the threshold family income.  As St. John Paul II wrote: “Just remuneration for the work of an adult who is responsible for a family means remuneration which will suffice for establishing and properly maintaining a family and providing security for its future.  Such remuneration can be given either through what is called a family wage—that is, a single salary given to the head of the family for his work, sufficient for the needs of the family without the other spouse having to take up gainful employment outside the home—or through other social measures such as family allowances or grants to mothers devoting themselves exclusively to their families.  These grants should correspond to the actual needs, that is to the number of dependents for as long as they are not in a position to assume responsibility for their own lives.

The pandemic has actually prompted business executives to consider radical solutions in their attempts to build back better and not just return to the so-called new normal.  One of these proposed measures is that of radical flexibility.  This means giving employees flexibility in terms of where they work as well as  when they do that work and how much of it they do.  Providing unlimited annual leave is a good example, which according to The Guardian is offered by Sony, Hubspot and Grant Thornton.  Such a policy allows people to feel more in control of their lives.  Mr. Cox actually speaks from his own experience that the mere act of granting such radical flexibility can engender such great trust within an organization that, in reality, most people go nowhere near exercising their full flexibility.  The mere fact that it is available makes the employee feel more secure in his job.

This radical flexibility will be more important to working mothers.  Because compensation policies in the Philippines are still far from the concept of a “family threshold income” as Christian social doctrine has taught for many decades, many mothers from the C, D and E households have found it necessary to supplement the incomes of their husbands by either full-time or part-time work, oftentimes by engaging in entrepreneurial activities.  It is worth reminding ourselves of what St. John Paul II, following the traditional teaching found in many papal encyclicals before him, said concerning the role of the mother in the family: “Experience confirms that there must be a social re-evaluation of the mother’s role, of the toil connected with it, and of the need that children have for care, love and affection in order that they may develop into responsible, morally and religiously mature and psychologically stable persons.  It will redound to the credit of society to make it possible for a mother—without inhibiting her freedom, without psychological or practical discrimination, and without penalizing her as compared with other women—to devote herself to taking care of her children and educating them in accordance with their needs, which vary with age.  Having to abandon these tasks in order to take up paid work outside the home is wrong from the point of view of the good of society and of the family when it contradicts or hinders these primary goals of the mission of a mother.”

Although my nature, women have a unique and irreplaceable role in the nurturing and education of their children, this does not mean that the fathers should not have a greater presence at home and share with their respective wives many of the family responsibilities.  This was well illustrated in an article in The Inquirer (November 29,2021) by Allan Policarpio commenting on a content of a local TV show entitled “Mars Pa More.”  The host, actress Camille Prats, observed that during the pandemic, the idea of family is changing and is no longer about the mother staying at home and doing all the work.  During the pandemic, many more men are becoming increasingly involved in taking care of their kids and helping in the household chores. As more male employees work at home post pandemic, this may become a permanent shift in many families.  It does not mean, however, that the mother will lose her central role in being the principal homemaker.  Nature has endowed her with a “comparative advantage” in this primordial responsibility.

Giving women workers the freedom to decide where they work, when they do the work and how much of it they do would be a most fortunate result of the practices introduced during the pandemic. By introducing the radical flexibility suggested in this article, we can come closer to what was considered utopian by those who criticized the proposal of St. John Paul II when he wrote:  ”It is a fact that in many societies women work in nearly every sector of life.  But it is fitting that they should be able to fulfill their tasks in accordance with their own nature, without being discriminated against and without being excluded from jobs for which they are capable, but also without lack of respect for their family aspirations and for their specific role in contributing, together with men, to the good of society.  The true advancement of women requires that labor should be structured in such a way that women do not have to pay for their advancement by abandoning what is specific to them and at the expense of the family, in which women as mothers have an irreplaceable role.”  If only for this reason, I consider the COVID-19 a true “blessing in disguise”, proving that everything works unto good to those who love God.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.