Professor speaks to LFM-SDM staff on work-family integration
By Monica Nakamine
June 4, 2003
As part of LFM-SDM’s Lifelong Learning Seminar Series, Dr. Lotte Bailyn, professor of management at Sloan, spoke to LFM-SDM staff members on the relationship between work and family and the importance of valuing employees’ personal life. Successfully integrating the two realms – work and family — could lead to a more motivated, creative, and empowered workforce.
As a researcher and co-director of MIT’s Workplace Center, Bailyn has done extensive research on these topics. Her findings have helped companies and organizations assess where, on a human resources level, their structures were breaking down and worked with them to create systems that not only encourage profit growth, but the well-being of the staff.
“We are concerned with the organization of work and how it is structured, the institutional norms in the workplace, and how competence is determined,” said Bailyn. “Previously, researchers have only focused on efficiency, but without bringing into the equation the effects of people’s personal lives. If you look at work through this lens, you can make changes that have a double role. The changes would increase the effectiveness of the work, but would also address the lives of the people who are in that job function.”
Bailyn and her colleagues coined this concept as “the dual agenda,” which was first dealt with in her book, entitled Breaking the Mold: Women, Men and Time in the New Corporate World (1993), and has been reported in detail in their jointly authored book Beyond Work-Family Balance: Advancing Gender Equity and Work Place Performance (2002). The idea is that employers must redesign and redefine the idea of work in such a way that both professional and personal lives are better integrated. This would encourage people to achieve their highest potential instead of merely getting through the day, working under constant stress, or underproducing.
Bailyn gave an example of how the “dual agenda” works by citing a case study involving a sales/service organization that she and her colleagues worked with to address its deteriorating efficiency level and profit margin. The relationship between the sales and service departments was unstable — mistrust between them contributed to already stressful situations and encouraged miscommunication.
To address this problem, the researchers formed a cross-functional team comprised of members from both departments. Working together, they shared their issues and concerns and, in the process, realized that there were many ways in which they could assist each other more effectively. Bringing personal need and work need together was key in making this work since the cross-functional team idea had been previously attempted.
“As we were leaving the site, management came up to us and said, ‘We put a cross-functional team together of this same group and it didn’t work. What’s different about yours?’” said Bailyn. “The difference was that we introduced the idea of a cross-functional team as a way not only to increase revenue, but to create a better work situation for everyone. That made employees more willing to share with each other, and also gave them the motivation to make it work. When the idea was introduced by top management who only emphasized increasing sales, the same motivation wasn’t there.”
The “dual agenda” — creating a better working environment while addressing the personal needs of employees – works for several reasons, as Bailyn pointed out:
- Employees are motivated to make changes to their work environment because their personal lives are being taken into consideration.
- Motivation, in turn, fosters creativity, allowing people to express and empower themselves.
- Through this lens, people are able to identify the reasons behind negative situations or inefficient work practices – aspects that are usually taken for granted.
“We are culturally trained to believe that work life and personal life are two separate things; a concept that came with the industrial revolution,” said Bailyn. “Back then, companies and organizations were structured as if employees have no other responsibilities in their life. This was due to the mainly male workforce, the at-home support that families often had, and the belief that the two worlds – work and family — were separate and adversarial spheres. It was thought that if one side was addressed, then the other would necessarily suffer.”
Bailyn prefers using the term “work-family integration” rather than “work-family balance.” “Balance,” she says, suggests the notion of equal weight – 50-50 – between one’s work and family life. Realistically, this is not often the case. The term can also infer that if emphasis is placed on one, the other will suffer, as she mentioned above.
“I liked Lotte’s term of ‘integration of work and personal life’ rather than ‘balance,’” said Maria Gonzalez, LFM-SDM staff assistant. “’Integration’ gives you the feeling that through ‘flexibility,’ you can find harmony between your work and your personal life without sacrificing either. Flexibility is key because it recognizes the individuality of the workforce, that each employee is unique, and that each person has his or her own particular needs.”
“The fact that Lotte came to talk to us shows that LFM-SDM is committed to keeping up with new trends in the workplace and setting an example to other departments within MIT,” said Gonzalez. “Her presentation reinforces the idea that in order to have a productive labor force, employees need to be happy.”