Meeting Modern Family NeedsMar 01, 2023
Modern Models are needed to Meet Modern Family Needs
You wouldn’t try to run a new software program on a computer from the 1990s, let alone one from the 1970s. Even if you did, it wouldn’t work – the computer can’t handle that level of power and processing. In most cases, the computer wouldn’t even be capable of recognizing, let alone processing modern day software programs.
Likewise, we have to stop running current businesses and workplaces on historic societal models. As we try to run our new family/societal systems on these outdated approaches to work, people everywhere are experiencing disengagement, unhappiness, poor well-being, high levels of stress, overwhelm, and ultimately burnout.
Historic Societal Work Models
Most workplace practices were built on the premise of single worker families. In most of these single worker families, the men were the ones going to work rather than staying home. Women, on the other hand, were expected to stay home with the children, take care of the home, and support all the non-work related tasks. The rationale for this approach, I believe, was based upon a few different elements.
- First, religious and historic practices emphasized the woman as subservient to men, dependent on men, and oftentimes, considered less intelligent than men.
- Second, the various types of work available were often highly physically demanding – from military service, to mining, to industrial labor, the work being done was often considered unfit for women.
(Note: I recognize I am over-generalizing and that there are plenty of exceptions to this rule. However, I want to emphasize the model was also not built to support those other exceptions. Where women were able to work, either they did so because they did not have a husband, or typically, the men would also be working – creating significant challenges for the unpaid labor at home. For the single women, most needed some sort of assistance just to survive and feed their families leading to many of the programs created in the early 1900s. Although there were alternative family structures, these were by far the minority and in many cases considered to be illegal until recently).
This model meant extremely long work weeks, limited sick/time off days, extremely physical demands, high stress, and expectations. The 40-hour work week was ultimately created as a result of Congress passing the Fair Labor Standards Act requiring overtime to be paid to limit workplaces from taking advantage of their workers. This model was possible only because the other partner would handle everything else – kids, school, meals, and cleaning. This model was also the result of:
- A time when work took far longer to execute – every task had to be completed manually, letters or correspondence was dictated.
- Communicating took days, or even weeks without email and the ability or expectation to respond within hours or even minutes.
- Information and knowledge were controlled by those with expertise. Without the internet, other individuals had no way to acquire that level of knowledge without learning from those who came before.
- Control of knowledge and task execution led to hierarchies with clearly defined leaders, top-down management leading to micromanagement.
- Tasks and responsibilities were often repeatable elements of a process. Without automation, people were doing many of the tasks that today can be done by computers and machines.
Current Societal Models
In the modern world, we see so many differences it can be hard to even begin to name them all. Our family structures, communication, access to information, knowledge of performance, access to technology, ability to automate, and more have changed. In fact, so much has changed it is hard to believe how many outdated workplace practices are still being relied upon today. (Albeit, many workplaces have started to make the necessary shifts to accommodate the modern models). Let’s highlight a few of these major changes and what they mean to modern workplace practices.
- Family Structures – our families have changed dramatically to include a vast array of structures and significantly more two-parent working families.
- Communication – occurs at rapid speed with messages being sent not just over e-mail, but over a host of various technology platforms such as WhatsApp, Marco, Messenger, and tons of social media platforms.
- Knowledge and Information – is now accessible by everyone, everywhere, and all the time. In fact, there is so much knowledge, it can be overwhelming and even difficult to discern what is most valuable. With the advent of AI, we are beginning to see the ability to have AI even do some of the “thinking” for us.
- Knowledge of Performance – We now know so much more about the human brain and how to get to high levels of performance it can change both how we manage people and achieve results.
- Control – is no longer determined by who has possession of knowledge and information. Instead, it is truly the past structures that are allowing the few to maintain control over the many.
- Access to Technology – In the past, only those with significant resources could get access to technology. However today, virtually everyone has a phone, the majority have access to a computer, and a significant number have access to the internet regularly.
- Ability to Automate – Repeatability is still considered a huge advantage, and many keep trying to put everything into a process. However, as technology continues to grow, the needed skills are going to be far more focused on problem solving and decision-making than on completing repeatable elements of a process. Repeatable elements will ultimately all be automated or completed by computers.
The Impact of Outdated Practices on Modern Families
I am going to speak about my own experience and the impact of these practices on my life. I recognize there are many different experiences as we all have various perspectives based upon our own life circumstances.
Those of us with two-parent working families feel the second unpaid workload heavily. Getting my three kids ready, to and from school takes at least three hours a day. As a result, working parents must get up earlier to accommodate the extra unpaid work in the morning. This earlier start makes activities like exercise much more difficult for parents to fit into their day.
Then, throughout the day, you might have sick kids or doctors’ appointments requiring you to pick them up and take a day off. Just this school year alone, I have had at least one kid home every single week since August sick with something, a snow day, or an arbitrary school holiday. For those with jobs who have limited personal time/sick time, this can be a substantial challenge and eliminate any ability to have vacation days to actually take a vacation.
Most schools require you to pick up by 5:30 or 6pm or face late fees per minute you are late. As a result, staying late to finish work or ‘push it across the finish line’ is just not possible. When workplaces see employees leave every day right at 5pm, they are often judged for not being as committed as those who stay longer. When, in reality, these parents have little choice but to leave on time or risk significant financial consequences.
By the time you get home after picking the kids up, it’s typically a marathon to bedtime. Without a parent at home who has already prepared dinner, cleaned the home, etc you end up rushing to get through all the evening tasks. Getting kids fed and to bed takes at least two hours each night.
By the time kids are in bed, at best you have one to two hours before you must also go to bed or risk cutting into much needed sleep. The decision to jump back into your work for a few more hours or take care of your own needs is very difficult; especially in cultures that value replying to messages in off hours to demonstrate your commitment to work. Oftentimes, sleep is what is sacrificed, and we now know how much reduced sleep has a huge impact on long-term health consequences.
All of this assumes children who are old enough to go to school; for those with infants, the challenges are even greater, especially for women. The feedings, pumping breast milk, preparing bottles, etc., is another huge time and physical impact. Infants often wake during the night for many months (my twins did until they were almost nine months old). The time to clean bottles, pump, and prepare is at least a few hours every single day. Goodbye any time that might have existed after bedtime…
None of this takes into consideration if your kids are in activities (or whether you can even let them do so if you work). These decisions weigh heavily on working parents (or at least they do me) because it is difficult to work a full day and drive kids where they need to go. Laundry and cleaning the house takes almost one full day each week reducing the weekend to one day of actual play and recovery. The alternative is to lower one’s standards, which I find from talking to many working parents ends up being the case. The impact of this decision is the shame that comes from feeling as though you aren’t keeping your house nice or meeting societal expectations of parenting.
Many parents experience shame on a regular basis from not being able to keep up with everything they are trying to juggle from work to family.
For the lucky ones, those in extremely demanding roles who can financially afford to do so, they often hire people to fill these gaps such as nannies, caregivers, house cleaners, and drivers. Unfortunately, this also has consequences for the children. Kids desperately want and need time with their parents. They look to parents for direction and guidance. The perpetual absence of parents leaves lasting trauma and issues for many children. Even physically present parents who are not psychologically present or are experiencing high stress and burnout create challenges for their children.
When I went through my burnout experience, I was totally disconnected from my children in a way I am ashamed to admit to this day. I was so concerned about my work, my reputation, my boss, my results, and keeping up with the day-to-day grind, I had little left to focus on them; to truly give them my emotional attention, love, support, and guidance. My nervous system was so burnt out, they could feel me and would often struggle in response to my state. (Don’t underestimate how emotionally aware our children truly are!) The contrast of this experience to my current, present-day approach with my children is almost night and day.
The Impact on Women
The exodus of people, especially women leaders, from the workplace is well-documented. Losing women at the top of workplaces only makes the issue worse, reducing the people best able to provide alternative perspectives when leaders are making decisions. The CNBC article, “It’s a huge concern’: Senior-level women are calling it quits after decades climbing the career ladder” highlights this challenge in a major way.
Even after they've climbed the career ladder, women in senior leadership face more headwinds than men do, Krivkovich says, ranging from everyday microaggressions (like being questioned on their expertise) to carrying a greater responsibility in diversity and inclusion initiatives. "They are doing more in their roles than men are typically doing across a whole gamut of things that support their office culture and community," Krivkovich adds. "They do twice as much sponsorship support, spend more time on diversity work, and spend more time mentoring and sponsoring" colleagues within the organization. So it stands to reason that, after years or decades at the top, they're going to lose steam: 43% of women leaders reported feeling burned out, compared to 31% of men, according to Lean In and McKinsey data.”
As a senior female executive leader, I too left my corporate role a little over a year ago with similar priorities as the women mentioned in this article. I, too, was struggling with the expectations of the workplace and the ability to live a fulfilling and meaningful life.
Which is why I am so passionate about evolving our workplace systems and structures to update them to address the current day modern family needs. I truly believe if we can evolve our workplaces and help people evolve themselves, we can create better results for our workplace and experiences for our people.
Our results are always the consequences of our behaviors, which are the result of our thinking, which is created by our feelings, which occur because of our emotions, which come from our physiology. If we want to change our results, we must start looking at the physiological reasons people are truly struggling and make changes in our workplace practices.
We’ve mastered technology.
Now, it’s time to master human neurobiology to create extraordinary workplace results while also meeting the needs of the modern family.
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