February 1, 2016


Another topic that doesn’t see its way into management text books is Families. My other F sections are on Firing people (always, always a hard thing to do even when it’s absolutely necessary) and Fundraising.

Here’s an excerpt from the section on Families:

“Some aspects of the work that takes places in arts and cultural organisations is open to [family-friendly] arrangement but much is not.  Shows happen at night and over the weekend. Museums and galleries are open every day of the year except for a couple of religious holidays. Stage managers work for weeks during the day and then have to switch to nights. Freelance directors and designers have to travel to get gigs. Dancers and musicians will often have to go on tour. The gallery opens at a certain time and guides have to be in place. Everyone in the cast has to be in the rehearsal room at the same time. The bump in of the opera has to be done over a series of 18 hour days because of the availability (and cost) of the venue. The dance performance starts at 8pm.  These times, often outside of regular working hours, can be particularly challenging for people with young children because as Mendelssohn (2013b) points out unless people are  in the most senior of positions, people working in the arts tend to have salaries that equate with genteel poverty, most childcare centres close by six and nannies are expensive.

However, it’s not always formal work arrangements that be helpful for people looking to manage complex lives.. Where it’s possible to create even occasional time flexibility, people will be grateful for the personal consideration and rarely abuse the privilege. I love the description of working at Oasis, a care service organisation in Tennessee. In the words of Plas & Lewis (2001, p.75) :

“An undisputed reality at the center is that people do not criticized one another for dealing with family responsibilities during regular work hours. Co-workers do not complain, and management does not offer negative consequences. This people routinely bring kids and pets to work, take kids and pets to medical appointments, make personal day time visits to legal and government agencies, and even get the tires on their cars rotated during agency hours were necessary. ….Employees make their own decision about what needs to come first: work or family. If they decide in favor of a family responsibility, they also decide how work at Oasis will be covered in their absence.”

It’s not always easy to create such an environment because there are often situational tensions that result from work structure and the impact of people’s different personal situations.  For example, the day to day practices such as working from home, flexitime, altering start and finish times need to be negotiated with the team because if the dynamics of the team are badly disrupted or if people develop antagonism towards a member because of a perception of special treatment, then the result won’t be positive.

Another area of concern is the difference between those with children and those without. For example, there is evidence from the Netherlands (ten Brummelhuis, Haar & van der Lippe 2010) that the family demands of having young children have a disadvantageous effect on collegiality, whereas having children in itself did not diminish collegial behaviour. For better or for worse caring for young children takes a lot of time and energy and prevents employees from being fully involved in workplace social networks. So ironically, you can be trying to develop a family-friendly culture at work but anyone with a young family will find it hard to participate fully. The notion that people with young children aren’t as ‘available’ to their colleagues as those without shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. The main issue is to ensure that any complaints or concerns about staff lack of availability because of these demands are heard and responded to quickly before they become a problem. Rosner & Halcrow (2010, p.305) advise that the best way of dealing with this tensions between parents and nonparents is to put the focus back on job performance:

“if you give people time to deal with their personal lives, it doesn’t matter whether they spend that time taking their kids to a soccer game, volunteering at a homeless shelter, or going to an antiques show; it’s their business, not yours. Measure whether work is completed on time and done well and don’t log every time Jane (sic) comes in late or leaves early.”

The odds are, even if someone doesn’t have kids, they have a partner or parents who will need some care and attention at some time. We now live in a world where many of us are caught between children and elder responsibilities in the ‘sandwich generation’ (Kumra & Manfredi 2012). Before the Australian government introduced regulations that redefined sick leave as family leave so that it could be used for more than just personal illness, we had such a policy.

Although we thought of ourselves as a family friendly organisation, there were times at MTC when this flexibility just didn’t happen. Our excuse was it was only ever about the art and not about the day to day operations of the company. But that’s not quite true. When it came to the bump in i.e. moving the set and costumes and actors out of the workshops and rehearsal room and into the theatre, the long days were remorseless. Every day of bump in was day that we weren’t putting the show in front of audience so the pressure was on to make the bump in happen in the shortest number of days. So in fact, the truth was that we drove people to work ridiculous hours because of money – rental cost and lost income. Over the years, we did give more and more time to the bump in process but it never seemed to stop the long hours. Luckily, the union recognised this propensity in all performing arts companies and there was a financial penalty built into industrial awards to try and stop people working unless they’d had a 10 hour break – double pay until they did.”


Kumra, S & Manfredi, S 2012, Managing Equality and Diversity, Oxford University Press, Oxford

Mendelssohn, J 2013b, ‘Why are so many arts organisations run by blokes?’ The Conversation, 10 May, http://theconversation.com/why-are-so-many-arts-organisations-run-by-blokes-13217 [accessed 23 January 2015]

Plas, JM & Lewis, SE 2001, Person-Centered Leadership of Nonprofit Organizations, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks CA

Rosner, B & Halcrow, A 2010 The Boss’s Survival Guide (2nd ed), McGraw Hill, New York

Ten Brummelhuis, LL, Haar, JM &  van der Lippe, T 2010, ‘Collegiality under pressure: the effects of family demands and flexible work arrangements in the Netherlands’, The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 21(15):2831-2847