“The spouse develops an attitude about the company through the employee, and then the way the spouse feels cycles back and influences the employee” – Says Dr. Julie Holliday Wayne of Wake Forest University School of Business, who headed a project to find the linkage between spouse perceptions and employee satisfaction and firm loyalty. She explains in an article in Forbes, ‘If the spouse develops attitudes toward the firm, does that influence the employee?’ And what our research tells us is, ‘Yes.’
Although everyone recognizes how the ‘Spouse’ and in fact the entire family impacts the engagement levels of an employee, one of the neglected and least explored aspects of employee engagement is the relationship and bond of organization with the employee’s family. A TeamLease survey, 'Personal Attributes Affecting Workplace Productivity', reveals that a startling 67% of working professionals inform that their spouse's attitude towards their career and relationship with other people at work affects productivity. These indicate why engaging the family of an employee is critical for the organization.
History of Family Engagement
The concept of engagement of the family is in no way a new phenomenon. Many companies give housing quarters to its employees. Companies offer medical treatment or reimburse expenses not just for its employees but the family as well. Going a step further, some organizations have schools for the children of its employees or recreational facilities and other benefits at no or lower costs.
Typical activities by companies
Today companies have various initiatives to try and engage the family of the employee. Most companies have a Founder’s day or Company’s day in which family members of employees would be invited. In many cases family members are encouraged to perform and involve themselves on the annual day. During Rewards and Recognition programs, the spouse is persuaded to come along with the employee to the podium and the spouse is awarded in addition to the employee. Flowers are sent to the employee’s home during special occasions like Birthdays or Anniversaries. Children of employees are invited for summer camps and achievements of children are awarded. Family members are invited to contribute to the company magazine. In addition, top performing employees are rewarded with a trip with families to a tourist location or vouchers for club or hotel. A LinkedIn survey reported 60% of their employees considered their parents a huge driving force in their careers, leading to LinkedIn declaring one day in November every year as “Bring In your Parents” day, with many companies following suit.
Towards the next orbit: Strategic Engagement of the Employee’s Family
Connecting with employee’s family as a feel good factor is simply not enough. It is imperative that an organization goes beyond the standard welfare methods of engagement and drives certain practices which directly impact the profits of the company. Many companies are trying to involve the family of the employee in various stages of the employee life cycle, with excellent results.
Recruitment and Retention
A leading BPO hiring a substantial number of women realized that many women recruits who are working in a BPO for the first time quit in a short period. Analysis revealed that the main reason was the concern of her family about the safety of a young girl during night shifts. Anxious parents often convinced their wards to quit the job the moment she got another day-shift job. To deal with this issue, the organization decided to send a company representative to visit the home of every newly recruited woman and brief the family regarding safety measures and other precautions taken by the company for its female workforce. This initiative was highly appreciated by many families.
Performance Management Systems & Career Development
An Economic Times article (Family first: India Inc takes staff motivation to the source) mentions how Communications major, Ericsson, broke the tradition of having bosses hand over promotion letters, instead mailed them directly to the family, and appreciates and acknowledges the contribution of the family in ensuring that the employee is able to deliver exceptional results. Dr. David J. Schwartz in his seminal book ‘The Magic of Thinking Big’ mentions that many executives never employ persons for key jobs without first interviewing the fellow’s wife. The reason is that a cooperative and considerate family would help the employee tide over the inevitable inconveniences and rough spots.
HR veteran P Dwarakanath during the Business Today Knowledge Forum on HR 2015 in Delhi mentions an example of how to engage the family even during separation. When the company has to separate 5000 employees, the company should recognize that the family members would also be an important stakeholder during the separation and their concerns would be more than just the money. Therefore, the company should assure post-retirement medical benefits and support to children’s education in order to touch the chords of the employees and their families. In case of industrial workers, before workers are terminated for chronic absenteeism, the Personnel team visits the family of the worker to enquire the reasons and/or communicates to the family the potential consequences. In many cases, the family of the workman is known to literally force the workman to be present at work. Such initiatives save the company the nuisance of Industrial Relations issues and conveys to all workmen the level of care and compassion the company has for its employees.
Touch during Special Days or Times
Facilitating an employee to make a special day really memorable goes a long way in connecting the employee and his or her family to the organization. An IT major gifts the employee’s family a dinner in a 5-star hotel on marriage anniversary along with chauffer driven luxury car. A leading BFSI company encourages holiday on birthday and anniversary, with the option of advancing or postponing the holiday within 10 days of actual birthday or anniversary to facilitate an extended weekend. Leaves during exams of children, paternity leaves and workshops to handle parental stress during exams are other initiatives to connect with employee and family when they need help.
Driving Other Strategic Initiatives
The family of an employee can be used to drive various initiatives. During summer camps or other camps, various targets or future direction of the company can also be communicated or reiterated through the children of the employees. Family members can be involved in CSR activities and other company activities. In April 2014 during a strike, auto maker Toyota sent letters to families of striking employees to persuade their sons to come back to work, pointing out the various benefits the company has offered.
Safety initiatives may be driven through the family of employees. For example, children of employees can be asked to write slogans or design a poster about safety, and the same may be pasted near the machines in which the employee works in order to reinforce the safety culture. To control accidents, one State transport Corporation in South India insisted all its bus drivers to paste a picture of his mother/ wife/ sister/ daughter near the steering wheel. The idea was that the driver knows that if a female member of the family were physically present, she would not allow him to drive at high speeds; also the driver is subconsciously reminded that someone is waiting for him at home.
Companies offer various training to spouses of their employees to ensure that they are also able to develop certain skills and be gainfully self-employed. In many companies, items like candles, phenol, soap and books are purchased from Mahila Mandals in which the spouse of the employees are trained to make the items. This ensures that the womenfolk are employed and additionally, the company can procure such items at below-market rates.
The Impact of Engaging families
Though there are no studies to particularly measure the impact of engaging with the family vis-à-vis other engagement practices, there is no doubt that engaging the family of an employee impacts the commitment, connect and the discretionary effort of an employee. Such initiatives improve the confidence & respect for the organization and families are more accommodating to the employee, be it extended workings hours, increased business trips or any other inconveniences.
Pallavi Sharma, General Manager – HR, Fiserv India mentions in the article ‘Reaching out to Employees' Families’ in The Hindu, “While it is difficult to clearly and separately measure the effect of these initiatives on employee engagement; it definitely gives a positive impact for sure.” Su-Kam, a leading power back up, generation & monitoring company, cite in their website how in response to engagement with the members of the employees’ families, the Su-Kamian family members are found checking on sales and production target achievements.
The USA today article ‘Take your parents to work? Good for employees, business’ analyzes the rationale for connecting with the parents of employees and concludes that isn’t just a gimmick, but good business and a smart retention policy. The comments of workplace consultant Bruce Tulgan of New Haven, Conn regarding Parents day can be extended to engagement of the entire family – these are "one part recruiting, one part corporate culture and one part retention strategy."
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