This article is an excerpt from a new report called Time to Flourish: Protecting Families' Time for Work and Caregiving. The report is by Families Valued, an initiative of the Center for Public Justice, and features Sacred Sector participant Hope International. As with articles published on Sacred Stories, it is meant to strengthen the capacity of all faith-based organizations to live out their faith-based missions. If you are already a Sacred Sector participant, log into the Participant Portal to access the toolbox resources. If your organization is interested in becoming a Sacred Sector participant, click here.
Christian teaching contains a theology of work. It also affirms the significance of the workplace. Just as workers have a calling, the workplace has a calling as well. Workplaces produce goods and services that benefit customers. When they enlist workers in that creative task, they become the site in which humans live out their vocations. As Michael Naughton, a Catholic scholar of vocation and business, notes, “A community of work is only authentic when it serves those outside it in a way that develops those within it.” A workplace responds to its God-given calling when it treats all of its employees and workers with dignity and respect rather than as mere inputs to a production process.
Respecting workers’ full humanity entails respect for the various seasons of human life. Pope John Paul II’s Laborem Exercens (“On Human Work”) describes this imperative. Writing about the particular season and calling to motherhood, Pope John Paul affirms mothers’ critical role in the care and education of children. That many women are called to motherhood demands more, not less, of workplaces. Employers must not discriminate against or penalize those with caregiving callings lest mothers be pressured to give up their unique parenting role in order to retain employment. Instead, the “whole labour process must be organized and adapted in such a way as to respect the requirements of the person in his or her forms of life. . .”
Workplaces, particularly Christian organizations, can align family supportive values with workplace practices in a number of ways. They can honor and protect key seasons of family time by, for example, permitting employees to take reasonable leave for the birth of a child or major caregiving event without fear of losing their jobs. They can affirm nondiscrimination in hiring, evaluating and promoting workers who have family responsibilities.
Employers can also use technology to help mend the home-work divide. According to a 2017 report from Global Workplace Analytics, the number of U.S. workers who telecommute, which is defined as working from home with the aid of the Internet, email and the telephone, has increased 115 percent in the past decade, to about 3.9 million workers, or about three percent of the U.S. workforce. Telecommuting allows workers with small children or aging parents at home to complete work and care for family members in one place. Flex-time — flexibility in when work is completed during the week — also allows parents to adjust their schedules to care for children while completing work remotely. Forty percent of American employers indicate that they allow some workers the ability to work some regular paid hours from home.
HOPE International, a Sacred Sector participant and Christian microfinance organization based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, has thoughtfully integrated technology with their missional understanding of work. Chris Horst, HOPE’s Vice President of Development, described how he manages a team of 20-plus regional representatives across the country. The development team “meets” regularly via teleconferencing. In this way, technology has allowed the organization to employ the most qualified workers across the country while expanding their development work beyond its central offices. HOPE’s flexibility on worker location also helps employees meet family obligations that may occur at various times of the day. HOPE has balanced this development with a commitment to building in-person relationships as well. Horst notes that off-site employees are encouraged to develop collegial relationships and professional networks in their own town so that their work interactions are not just virtual. “There are very few people I’ve found who can really successfully work from home, without working hard to build some sort of community,” says Horst. “There has to be some face to face community.”
HOPE is also mindful of the ways that technology can encroach on family time. HOPE’s executive team has established a rule to ensure that work completed at home does not infringe on non-work-related home activities. Staff are not supposed to email at night or on Sundays unless there is an emergency. If an employee needs to email during those times, they are supposed to explain in the email why they are emailing at that time. “You have to keep technology in its proper place; when it is, everything works better, including work life and family life,” explains Horst.
Employers can also structure the flow of work in such a way that anticipates life events. They can guarantee a certain number of paid sick or discretionary days and permit use of sick days for care of a child or family member. Employers can develop systems that enable workers to swap shifts or shift their schedule in order to attend a doctor’s appointment or parent-teacher conference. Eighty-one percent of employers surveyed indicate that they allow some workers some paid time off during the workday for personal or family needs; 47 percent allow this flexibility to all or most employees.
Employers can responsibly integrate part-time work arrangements into the workplace, not for the purpose of lowering labor costs, but to enable individuals to contribute their skills and participate in paid work at a level that leaves time for family care duties.
The common thread across family-supportive workplace policies is an understanding of family care events and seasons, not as an aberration, but as a fully integrated aspect of an employee’s life. Christians believe that family is a central priority, not an afterthought. Anticipating family responsibility is an extension of employing humans.
Research suggests that workplaces with family-supportive policies become more effective workplaces. The Boston Consulting Group, a management consulting firm, found that a generous family leave policy helps retain talented employees after the birth of a child — thus reducing the cost of hiring and training a replacement employee — and is a determining factor for talented hires as they choose a job. More than 80 percent of companies surveyed found that paid family leave boosted morale and productivity. Similarly, the Society for Human Resource Management found that workplace flexibility increased job satisfaction and retention, and decreased occurrences of missed work due to illness, workplace accidents, and distractions from home-based demands. Decreased stress and time to promptly care for illness may lead to lower levels of absenteeism and lower health care costs in the long-term. Workplaces with a sensitivity to family life have much to gain.
Workplaces are called to treat all workers with dignity and respect. A healthy community of work develops the persons within it as well as offers a good or service to the world. Organizational leaders and others who shape the workplace can do so in ways that anticipate workers’ family responsibilities rather than treat them as an aberration. They can deploy technology, training and creative problem-solving to help mend the work-home divide.
Alongside civil society institutions such as workplaces, public policy has a role to play in supporting family life. Government is called to protect the varied spheres of human life and their varied seasons, including seasons of family care. Laws such as the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) help protect family time, affirming cultural norms about the balance of work and family time. Good policy can also address the legal gaps and economic barriers that leave so many families’ time unprotected and at risk. Many parents do not take time off for family because they cannot afford to do so. And, while some employers can and do provide paid leave or related benefits, many do not. Further, small businesses, nonprofit and religious employers often face significant hurdles developing and funding benefits like paid family leave.
Scholars and economists from across the political spectrum say the time has come for paid family leave for all workers. A broad paid family leave system, they argue, can support a healthy workforce and healthy families without over-burdening smaller employers. In California, one of the first states to develop such a system, paid family leave has enabled parents to spend more time providing care to young children and family members. Health researchers have linked parental leave with a whole host of benefits, from lower infant mortality to improved maternal health and improved work history. Likewise, evidence points to the benefit of family-supportive workplaces not only for worker well-being but also for workplace productivity, effectiveness and retention.
Cultivating the conditions of family flourishing depends on all segments of society, civil society and government alike, cooperating. We recommend the following steps for workplaces and public policy with respect to work and family time.
Workplaces and public policy alike should protect workers’ time to care for family members.
Workplaces, especially faith-based organizations, should align family-supportive values and workplace practices.
Policy-makers should develop a system of paid family leave so that all workers can attend to seasons of family responsibility.
Given the fundamental role of family in God’s design, it should be no surprise that enabling family time yields abundant benefits. When people are empowered to fulfill their caregiving responsibilities, all of society flourishes. Christians who recognize the socially foundational nature of family must not only talk about the importance of family, but enact policies and create cultures that tangibly demonstrate its importance. Protecting and enabling family time at crucial moments — whether birth, adoption, illness or death — is one essential way to uphold the enduring value of the family.
Read more from Time to Flourish here.
If you are not a Sacred Sector participant and would like access to resources on public policy, organizational practices and public positioning for faith-based organizations, sign up to become a Sacred Sector participant here.
Rachel Anderson is a Resident Fellow with the Center for Public Justice, leading the Families Valued initiative.
Katelyn Beaty is an editor at large with Christianity Today, where she previously served as the magazine's youngest and first female managing editor.