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WORK & FAMILY
By Jill Hamburg Coplan
MAY 10, 2000


Small Businesses' Family-Friendly Edge

A Wharton professor says the flexibility to give each employee what he or she needs is key

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We take a break from helping business owners meet the clashing demands of their jobs, marriages, families, and selves. This week, we ask organizational psychologist Stewart Friedman, the director of the Leadership Development Center at Ford Motor Co., what it would it be like if we all got it absolutely right?

Friedman, the father of three young children, is currently on leave from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. He contends that the bottom line would improve -- maybe even dramatically. His research appeared most recently in the new book Work & Family -- Allies or Enemies? (Oxford University Press), co-written by Jeffrey H. Greenhaus, a professor at Drexel University. Here are edited excerpts of our conversation:

Q: Are small businesses solving the work-life integration problem better than large corporations?
A:
 The great thing in the small-business environment is the flexibility. The downside is you've got much less slack. You're much tighter in terms of people and all the other resources you need. But the ability to really know your people's lives gives you the capacity to recognize the whole person. You're not burdened by bureaucratic human-resources policies that require equality as opposed to equity -- you can offer fairness as opposed to sameness. You can treat different people with different lifestyles and family structures differently, like you do if you're a good parent.

It creates an overarching feeling of fairness if everyone feels they're getting what they need -- as opposed to a blanket everybody-gets-the-same, which large companies are inclined to do because of pressures from interest groups and the government.

Q: What are the pay-offs for small companies that succeed?
A:
  In small companies, we've seen time and again [that] when managers [see the] whole person...and treat their people like members of the family, it makes business sense. Most of them intuitively key in to their people's different needs and respond with flexible work arrangements. In a small business, you're more likely to be attuned to those things. But it does take extra work. It's easier to do one-size-fits-all. You don't always have someone to fill in.

But that's the opportunity and the competitive advantage small companies have in the labor market. Managers who've created a work environment that enables a person to do what they need to outside of work get a return of affection and commitment to that manager and to the company they represent.

Q: Have you seen improved profitability as a result of a company [being family-friendly]?
A:
  What you see is a correlation with customer service. The feeling of being cared for as a customer often comes from people having been cared for as employees. You get miraculous commitment levels and smarter, more intelligent work.

Q: Do entrepreneurs have to live "balanced" lives themselves to run family-friendly companies?
A:
 No.... It's a matter of the values, culture, and attitudes of leadership.


Send your questions to frontierlife@businessweek.com.



Jill Hamburg Coplan has covered work, family, business, and finance for the past decade as a writer and editor for newspapers, magazines, and wire services. She left Working Woman magazine, where she was senior editor, when her first child was born and now works solo from a home office in Brooklyn, N.Y.


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