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People who are good at flexible working tend to be good at relationships, says Penny Mansfield, director of relationship specialists One Plus One.
“It’s a virtuous circle.” she says. One Plus One and Working Families are just about to begin a research project, Happy homes, productive workplaces, which is funded by the Department for Education. “The purpose is to begin a cultural change in the workplace that recognises the impact of personal wellbeing on the workplace and vice versa,” says Mansfield. “It’s about making the business case for the benefits of emotional wellbeing.”
She adds that good working families often have “a natural genius”. “The things that make them function well as families make them good workers,” she says. “They tend to be good at articulating what they want, at setting boundaries, managing differences of opinion, managing disappointment and stress and being supportive as well as good at setting priorities and taking turns. These are the skills that are important for team work and are skills that any really good manager has. Team work is the same as being good at relationships.”
In the past, family skills have not been recognised in the workplace, she says. “Women taking a career break were regarded as having entered some kind of black hole. In reality they were developing skills. A lot of parents have to be flexible and ready to go at all times. A lot of people manage it very well, but no-one really appreciates or understands it.”
Flexibility is key in today’s workplace and those who do it well are people who are able to set boundaries and negotiate and renegotiate priorities, says Mansfield. She adds that some people are better at it than others and can negotiate the kind of flexibility that promotes their general wellbeing. Others are not so good at setting boundaries and need them to be laid down clearly.
One Plus One is also developing and trialling guidance for employers to encourage emotional wellbeing among staff, a web-based toolkit and an elearning module.
They have been running a series of elearning programmes which help couples who are separating or facing challenging situations. These include Relationship support: an early intervention which recently won an educational award. Some are aimed at professionals such as GPs; others at couples who are facing hard times.
Mansfield says it is an exciting, developing area. “There is still a stigma attached to seeking support, but these programmes, which can involve online groups, are places where people can be anonymous if they want and are available any time anywhere.” Interestingly, a third of their users are men. The aim of the programmes is not just to provide information, but to provoke change and empower those who use them.
It’s all about seeing the benefits to society, including employers. of emotional wellbeing, says Mansfield.