August 7, 2014 — MILs at home
An Indian lady is most powerful when she becomes a mother-in-law (MIL), a coveted position in India. She controls not only what happens in the kitchen but also what her daughter-in-law can and cannot do! The statement one hears most frequently from an MIL is “hamre khandan ki bhau aise nahi karthi,” which translates to “daughters-in-law of our family do not do this.”
MILs at the office
I’d like to draw a parallel with bosses who behave like MILs in the office. These are women who are very senior, at least in terms of the number of years they have devoted to their company, within an organisation. They have put in hard work, stretched their imaginations, and rightfully achieved senior positions.
Unfortunately, some of these women, who succeeded under different rules, do not embrace contemporary flexible work arrangements (FWAs) with ease. They make comments like “Oh! In our time, we never heard of such things!” or “Do you think I would have reached this level if I had asked for flexible options?” Some even go so far as to advise their protégés to forget all about FWAs if they want to achieve their career goals!
Every organisation has its fathers-in-law as well. These are men in senior positions who frown upon young men seeking FWAs so that they may help take care of their families or attend to their homes. I have even heard one man say, to explain why he wouldn’t consider a FWA, “That is why I told my wife not to work!”
Unfortunately, this ill-informed advice doesn’t serve young women and men who are trying to balance multiple priorities at work and at home—and want and expect equal relationships with their partners. Unequal access or no access to FWAs can result in an organisation losing high-potential workers, male and female alike, who want more balanced lives.
In the end, you must decide what kind of boss you want to be: an interfering mother-or-father-in-law type? Or a compassionate leader who gets the best from his or her team?
Employees are more committed, engaged, and productive when you treat them like adults rather than recalcitrant children. And they do better work when they are given the freedom and flexibility to manage their own lives.