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Family-Friendly Policies Make Us More Productive–So Why Don’t We Use Them?

New research shows that the barriers and benefits associated with family-friendly policies translate across cultures.

Family-Friendly Policies Make Us More Productive–So Why Don’t We Use Them?
[Photo: Flickr user Ines Njers]

A new study from the University of Texas at Dallas examines South Korean gender equality at work, and whether family-friendly policies affect productivity and turnover.

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South Korea’s labor laws around parenthood are adjusting to the significant increase in the number of females in the workforce, with the Gender Equality Employment and Work-Family Balance Support Act.

As a result, the more family-friendly policies were encouraged–including maternity leave, child care leave, on-site child care, restriction of night duties, and restriction of overtime work–the more productive employees were, with lower turnover rates.

But according to the report, South Korean women “have remained economically inactive as a result of a male-centered workplace, cultural barriers, societal pressures and gender inequality.” Even as their rights improve, the work culture stays stuck in the past. Women might not take advantage of their maternity rights at work, because of cultural stigmas.

Lead author Kwang Bin Bae says, in the study release: “Because of the hierarchy culture in South Korea, many people hesitate to utilize family-friendly policies because of cultural reasons, including the attitudes toward female workers. Female workers who wish to use these policies are concerned about discrimination such as promotion or evaluation. Furthermore, female workers may find it difficult to assert their privileges in a hierarchical work environment.”

“Social discrimination and shouldering the burden of child care explains why women increasingly tend to resign from their jobs,” the researchers write.

Does all of this sound familiar? It should: Out of 185 countries reviewed in a 2014 report by International Labour Organization, only United States and Papua New Guinea did not have public policies for paid maternity leave.

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“The theories were developed in the U.S. and Europe, which have these types of policies as well,” says Doug Goodman, associate professor of public affairs and director of the master’s in public affairs program at UT Dallas and coauthor of the study. “They seem to be validated from country to country. Family-friendly workplace policies do lead to higher productivity and better performance.”

Family-friendly policies in the U.S. aren’t uncommon, but women still get “mommy-tracked.” For more research-backed info on how parental rights at work help us all be happier and more productive, read “5 Practical Things Men Can Do For Gender Equality At Work.

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About the author

Freelance tech, science and culture writer. Find Sam on the Internet: @samleecole.

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