With what motivation do we act at home?

As we have already explained previously, our latest book talks about the People who live in a home, the Care they require and provide and the Work involved in the correct management of our homes.

It is a book that was born as a result of the Conference on Wellbeing that was held in 2017 and that sought to delve into what are the sources of wellbeing for the person. Without a doubt, one of those sources and in turn, the main stage of our life is the home, since it is the place where the person is born and takes his first steps as a social being, marking his life forever.

According to Professor Argandoña, author of one of the chapters dealing with Work, the home is an institution with multiple purposes. The home is reproduction, food, learning, socialization, producer of goods and services, care of children, the sick and the elderly, provider of physical and ontological security. But also home is a hotel, restaurant, school, hospital, a place of entertainment, a school of virtues…

In other words, the home has many functions, although the main one would be “learning to live by assuming different tasks.” Household members, regardless of their age, must be willing to carry out different jobs while living together because the proper functioning of the “institution” will depend on that relationship that is established between them and on that common effort.

To understand work at home, you have to know the 3 types of results that derive from our actions and that are specified as extrinsic, intrinsic and transcendent. That is, what we hope to receive: the food on the plate each day; what we hope to achieve: learning to share, or learning to cook, or the satisfaction of a pleasant home; and what we hope to give: considering, taking into account the needs of others.

But it is important to understand that in the home there is no intention to compare because the home is not a market in which we continuously compare what we give and what we receive. In many cases, there is no direct reciprocity, nor possible forms of compensation. The only possible measure of this distribution is love.

Love is the most intense way to share. Love is, par excellence, the main virtue in the home” says Argandoña. Benevolent love is demonstrated when the person acts with a transcendent motivation, that is, when he only takes into account the needs of the other and seeks his good, not his own benefit. That is why Professor Argandoña says: “the home is a privileged place for the exercise of care. It is the temple of the civilization of care.”

How many times do we act like this in our homes?

“We used to work from home, now we live at work”

I read this article published a few weeks ago in the Financial Times with great interest to try to understand why there has been a huge rejection of teleworking and the new way of working set up during the pandemic. In the months of April and May, the percentage of people suffering from mental problems and serious fatigue increased and it would be interesting to see if the cause is due to telework or simply telework misapplied by necessity.

Obviously, the confinement put us all to the test, since feeling deprived of freedom, not being able to continue with a normal life and having to stay at home, can trigger feelings of anxiety at first; But once the situation was assimilated, seeing the whole world in the same circumstances and understanding that being responsible was the only way to save lives, that anxiety must have given way to an ‘uncomfortable’ state of calmness and anticipation of it coming to an end.

Then we tried to begin again, with children, parents and sometimes grandparents going back from our living room to school, university and work. And the adaptation was obviously not easy, it could generate stress again, but it was an essential requirement to move forward and achieve apparent normality. And this is where I think the first problem comes: believing that what we did during confinement and the successive semi-lockdown was ‘telework’.

During those early months the only thing we sought was to survive and prevent the world coming to a standstill. Those of us who could, put great effort into working from home and those who had to go to their workplaces did so by adapting to the new measures, with everyone affected by the virus fighting to save themselves.

But the truth is that nothing of what we have experienced or what we are still living through is a normal situation. We have not implemented telework naturally, but under obligation, so clearly a solution that opens up great opportunities has been confused with a kind of ordeal.

I am a strong advocate of telecommuting, under normal circumstances. Four years ago at HRF we took that step and we have verified that it is really beneficial and that any shortcomings in the running of the day to day business can be filled by learning to manage this new model little by little. Before the pandemic, I visited the office, changing countries, once a month or every two months, and goal-setting meetings were held once a week. The rest of the time it’s all about trusting, trusting, and trusting. And then work, work and work.

One of the main complaints from those who have felt “burned out” and “stressed” with this new situation is that “before we used to work from home and now we live at work.” These people felt nervous if they did not answer an email immediately or if they did not respond to a call at 7am … And there comes the following erroneous belief: that now your workspace is your living room, you cannot switch off once you have finished your day’s work, so you live under the constant pressure of not being able to show that you are sitting there fulfilling your role.

Neither should pressure come from management, nor the worker feel questioned and insecure all the time. The relationship must remain the same as it was in the office, except that at home the responsibility for work is down to the individual. You are the one with the obligation to work a full day without having to be supervised, you are the one who must work efficiently throughout the day, so the home routine shouldn’t be very different to that of the office. In short, you have greater control of your time and you must learn to manage it well without neglecting your professional development. The misnamed ‘teleworking’ that has served as a temporary fix in many companies all these months and that most likely has not been implemented as it should, must not cloud the opportunities that this new working model offers us.

Teleworking is the sum of “time management” + “individual responsibility”. If the entire team can understand this from the highest position to the lowest and the climate is trustworthy, I predict a great future, because there are more and more companies, and ours is one of them, that can prove that it works.

Happiness – more than a feeling

If during this tumultuous year someone had asked “How do you feel?” very few of us would have answered by saying “Happy.” But if the question had been phrased “How are you coping?” many more of us would have answered –without false optimism– “quite well” or even “surprisingly well.”

This highlights the distinction between personal feelings – often fleeting emotional reactions – and the deeper, more lasting resilience of response to the demands of life.

This is the argument of Richard, Lord Layard in his extensive work in the field of what he has called “the new science” of happiness. The words “happy” and “happiness” are a necessary shorthand for a range of activities and attitudes that contribute to personal well-being. Taking happiness seriously has led to the development of several well-authenticated strategies for building this well-being in ourselves and fostering it in our children.

Action for Happiness is a movement of people building a happier society by making positive changes in their personal lives, homes, workplaces and communities, and a charity with which Lord Layard has closely identified. Its 10 keys to greater happiness have as a mnemonic “GREAT DREAM.”

Action for Happiness’s website tells us “Our happiness is not set in stone. Although our genes influence about 50% of the variation in our personal happiness, our circumstances (like income and environment) affect only about 10%. As much as 40% is accounted for by our daily activities and the conscious choices we make. So the good news is that our actions really can make a difference.”

To ourselves and to those with whom we share our lives. This has also been borne out by persuasive if only as yet anecdotal evidence that during this pandemic it is the quality of our relationships that have made the most difference to us all.

Happy people make happy relationships and this leads to happy communities. At Home Renaissance Foundation we have been keen to add the missing element to this equation: How does the home contribute to happiness – personal and for wider society. This is the question raised by our forthcoming academic sessions, supported by the Social Trends Institute, Happy Homes: Happy Society? The contribution of domestic life in a time of social changes.

We are delighted to have Lord Layard as a key contributor to these sessions, in which world-class academics share their perspectives on the relationship between home and well-being.

Please find the schedule of video presentations here ready for our launch on Thursday 12th and Friday 13th November. The agenda is also available on our site.

Happiness is more than a feeling – and it starts at home.

Let’s put theory into practice

A few days ago, we had the honour of being the invited Foundation to the meetings of the Argentine association MIF, Mujeres Independientes y Federales. The pandemic has normalised these virtual meetings and technology allowed us to discuss current fundamental issues concerning the home.

From Home Renaissance Foundation we want to thank María Elena Critto and Carolina Castiglioni who have concentrated on making our work known and, above all, brought together such a select audience to talk about the importance of care and the role of women. Among the more than 70 women who attended this event were Carlota Pitiot, a union leader from Apoc, the former Argentine senator, Cristina Fiore, and the national member of Parliament Victoria Morales Gorleri. It was precisely the latter who shared her personal and enriching experience that I dare to summarize as follows:

We women love to talk about how things should be, know the numbers and educate our children in joint responsibility, but it is so hard for us to delegate that we do not always put that theory into practice.

She explained that, in the middle of the pandemic, teleworking and with all her 6 children at home, she was overwhelmed by the pressure of not being able to get everything done. At one point, she sat down with her family and asked for their help. It was her husband and her children who told her:

“Mum, you always talk to us about dividing the household tasks, sharing the responsibilities all together, feeling part of the home, but we are not putting it into practice. Of course, we want to help and we will do the housework together.”

From that day on, the load on her shoulders became lighter. She understood that indeed the time had come for that ideal to reach fruition.

But it is not necessary to be drowned in work before asking for help because we would be missing the point of co-responsibility. It does not consist of doing what the mother or organiser of the home does not attain but in dividing the work fairly among all the members of the home and experiencing first-hand what it means when a sole person does not take on all the responsibility of the home.

Because if there is one place you can fail, it’s in the home. It is at home where things can be corrected with affection, where you can be reminded of your responsibilities, where you learn to be part of something, to be important in your role. As Charles Handy explains in the HomeMakers Project, “At home, skills and abilities that are much needed for professional life are acquired.”

No one is indispensable but by working as a team you are a very necessary link for the rest of the project to go full steam ahead.

Lessons from Home

Earlier this year we looked at the ways in which every home could find patterns and ways to make the experience of the pandemic less overwhelming. These were based on those things which, in a time of great uncertainty, remain largely within the choice and control of individuals and families: daily routines, respectful relationships and making the most of the natural world.

To develop this and to look at living choices and circumstances beyond our control, it helps to think about the difference between the adjectives “clean” and “cleanable”,  which is relevant to what follows.

Very few people wish to live in unclean environments. The recent advertisement for Cif cleaning products has the following message: “Beautiful makes us happy. It dazzles and delights. Cif cleans to reveal beauty everywhere, putting a smile back on your face. Goodbye ugly dirt. Hello beautiful.”

The premise of this advertisement is that the places we wish to clean are cleanable. For many households this premise is not a reality. For families living in poor rental housing stock there is nothing in the supermarket cleaning aisle to address the conditions they are forced to live in. Findings from the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) include:

  • More than one million children live in housing in England that it considered sub-standard or unfit to live in
  • On the whole, the research indicates that there is an association between homes with visible damp or mould and the prevalence of asthma or respiratory problems among children
  • Poor quality housing can have an adverse effect on children’s psychological well-being
  • Parents and children both complain of the social stigma of living in bad housing
  • Poor housing conditions can have an impact on the health and well-being of parents too, and therefore affect their ability to parent.

Such findings give an insight into the additional burden such families have faced during lockdown. Often these households also have less access to private green space and experience higher-levels of traffic pollution. Though, while the prevailing images of poor housing are in metropolitan urban context, in fact it is often in rural regions that housing is least well-maintained and secure. (see link Centre for Progressive Policy Report).

These are situations beyond the control of the families so affected, but within the control of those who direct housing and community policy. Work is being done in this area in the UK to improve the standard of housing and to think more about the lives and needs of the people involved. Writing in The Guardian Oliver Wainwright describes some recent innovative work councils are doing to both improve their social housing stock and the lives of their tenants. The focus is on making human-scale communities within the poorly-built and maintained building of the past. It can only be hoped the legacy of the pandemic will not get in the way of such vital engagements with how to help people live and thrive in healthy homes.

They are vital because they can restore the dignity of those making their homes in these places. And if the dignity of the person is considered in the national conversation on housing policy and action, the response of the person is more likely to agree with the Cif philosophy  – to take care of their own  corner of beautiful.

Is technology a help or a hindrance in achieving work/life harmonisation?

Before the pandemic, it was beginning to become apparent that we live in a flexible world in which the workplace does not have to be the office. At Home Renaissance Foundation, team members in various cities throughout the world have been working from home for a number of years, with our headquarters in London still active as a meeting space a few days a week.

This has allowed us, quite naturally, to adapt to the period of confinement without making drastic changes because teleworking was already established. Mondays meetings set the work pattern for the rest of the week with a flexible timetable to include scheduled calls.

But what has happened in cases where adapting to a new way of working has not been so straightforward? For those not used to teleworking and surrounded by family with children in need of homeschooling?

The change has not been easy, but in general, people have managed to adapt with more or less success, considering that what we have lived through is not the best example of teleworking. We have asked around and people, in general, are satisfied. Many feel exhausted due to the circumstances and wishing for a certain normality, but happy with the potential new way of working where technology plays a leading role. Many feel that once children return to school, the new teleworking practices introduced by pioneering companies will be more effective and easier to implement.

Kathleen Farrel, Lecturer at the Technological University of Dublin, wonders “Is technology a help or a hindrance in achieving work/life harmonisation?” in her chapter of our latest book entitled “People, Care and Work in the Home” published by Routledge.

We are not going to advance her conclusions, but she contextualizes teleworking by quoting different authors, for example “Work and family could be said to be two of the most significant elements of human life” (Toyin et al., 2016). “Indeed, work/family balance is one of the most challenging issues facing families in the twenty-first century” (Walker et al., 2008).

“According to the literature on working from home, the results indicate that the success or failure of working from home is very closely linked to homeworkers’ identity.” (Tietze and Musson, 2010).

Friedman (2014: 12) highlights that to be effective one needs “to know what matters.” He recommends an exercise called “Four Circles” representing the four domains “work, home, community and self.” This helps reflect on the “values, goals, interests, actions and results” cultivated in each area, and whether the latter are compatible or opposed to each other. When people engage in flexible working, the relationship between work and home needs to be redefined and changes made. (Tietze and Musson (2003, 2005).

I would say that quarantine has helped us, without a doubt, to reflect on these issues as a family after spending so much time together. We found ourselves immersed in change without much ado and it has been shown that those who took these aspects into account achieved a more effective and above all, a true adaptation, with a personal and work balance that gradually approaches the ideal pattern.

Colin Brazier said in his article on ‘Home in the Time of Coronavirus‘ that once confined, the success of its management does not depend on “any radical change. This is not the time to introduce lessons in Sanskrit.” What has not been taught before cannot be quickly applied. What is no longer a habit is very difficult to establish or balance in crisis situations.

Therefore, the home needs to be built little by little and with tenacity. It is a titanic effort that bears its fruits in the medium and long term. Family management must include reconciliation; and teleworking, thanks to technology, can be a very useful tool that, well run, will bring results. If the home lays its foundations well, it will be able to face health crises like the current one, with job changes such as teleworking, or technological innovations that we still don’t even imagine. The important thing is that the core of the home is unbeatable in the face of storms and flexible enough not to be overwhelmed – and that requires a good leader. Don’t forget that in your home, the leader is you.

Calling All Families: Covid Family Study

There is no question that though health workers have been in the frontline of dealing with Covid-19, all of us have been seeing action on the “Home Front” during the pandemic. Especially families, where parents have been managing the care and education of children while juggling the new demands of working from home and concerns for older relatives. The impact on our families and on the physical and mental health of parents has been the source of much anecdotal comment and speculation.

Dr Anis Ben Brik, distinguished and acknowledged expert in Social Policy and Sustainable Development, LSE alumnus, now Associate Professor at Hamad Bin Khalifa University College of Public Policy Qatar, has set up the Covid Family Study  to provide some real evidence of this experience and opportunities to learn from it. The Impact of the Pandemic on Family Life Across Cultures is an ambitious and timely study.  Twenty-one researchers from 40 countries across five continents will be looking at the survey data generated by the project. Fourteen partners are also contributing to this work. We are delighted that Home Renaissance Foundation is one of them, joining with international organisations sharing our vision and priority for the life and work of the home.

The aims of the study are wide-reaching and of great potential value to all families and agencies concerned with their thriving: to track the pattern of the symptoms, causes and risk factors of mental health in parents; to understand the experiences, coping skills and mechanisms of parents under pandemic conditions; to identify parents’ needs, and to use this evidence to inform the design of policy and support for families in the future.

Such aims reveal a strong understanding and recognition of the foundational role of parents in providing secure, stable and healthy home environments for their children. At HRF we whole-heartedly endorse this understanding and approach. During the pandemic, we have returned to our homes for safety and support. There have been positive aspects to this; many children have benefited from more time with their parents and regular daily patterns of meal and bedtimes, but it has also been costly for families in terms of health, living conditions and resources.

The Covid Family Study survey invites parents to share their experiences to help provide support in the future. The questions are straightforward and the guide time to complete the survey is 30 minutes. By receiving information across all national, cultural and economic contexts, both global and local insights will be generated. The investigating team will be able to use these responses to direct, design and deliver the best support services for every family.

If you are a parent of a child or children under 18, please take some time now to contribute to the survey to be a part of this vital work. For, if the pandemic has led to an international conversation on what we want to happen next in our world, it could not start in a better place than at home.

We have won!

MovementforGoodAward: HRF has won!!! 13,695 foundations were nominated for awards and more than 250,000 people voted! We are one of the 500 foundations receiving it!!! THANK YOU for your support and thanks Ecclesiastical for organising the Awards.

You made this possible. We requested via email and social media networks that you voted for our think tank, which for the past 14 years has made enormous efforts to make visible the critical work of the running of the home.

Each award, according to Mark Hews, Group Chief Executive at Ecclesiastical, will make a positive difference. In our case, the funding will allow us to continue promoting the Communication Report on “Home in the time of Coronavirus” by translating it into different languages. At the Home Renaissance Foundation, we know that every little push counts because small projects lead to great achievements, such as our latest publication People, Care and Work in the Home that will be published next Tuesday, June 16.

Much effort has gone into the production of the book spanning several years following the Conference held on the subject in 2017, which brought together prestigious academics and professionals from the Public Health and Care sector. During that gathering, workshops were also organised in which researchers from different fields were able to share their findings from the perspective of the home.

Edited by Professor Mohamed Gamal Abdelmonem in conjunction with Professor Emeritus Antonio Argandoña, and published by the prestigious Routledge, the book contains 17 fascinating contributions with insights into the care of the home and its members in various different ways throughout the world.

Covering three broad elements, as its title indicates, it begins by paying attention to caring for the person as the centre of our homes and, above all, delving into the critical care of the elderly, focusing on homes that provide for the needs of people with disabilities; and ends by highlighting the importance of the work that all this entails, analysing individual cases across the continents.

Without a doubt, as you can see, your support is crucial in giving back to the home the place it deserves, both socially and in public policy decision-making.

Home Truths

It is very early days to try to predict the long-term effects the coronavirus will have on our relationships with our homes. During this crisis, they have been seen as places of safety and security. For many of us, this has definitely been true as we have drawn strength from the solace and sanctuary of our homes and closest relationships.
It has not been the case for everyone though. A time of enforced lockdown in difficult physical or emotional circumstances has taken its toll on physical and mental health. Evidence-based investigation of what has really been happening in our homes is also at a very early stage, but anecdotal evidence suggests a number of factors that affect our experience of lockdown. This article looks at the positive aspects of these factors while recognising the very real implications of the negative ones.

Feeling in control
In a situation where there are so much fear and contradictory information in the wider world, keeping a sense of control in the small areas of domestic life is known to be beneficial. This sense of control or being able to order at least one part of our lives is seen in the increased order we are putting into our daily lives. This might be a more structured day, with regular work, meal and leisure times. It might be tidying and rearranging our home environment for optimal space and calm. It could be something as simple as planning the meals for the week, or sharing out domestic tasks. The key is that an order and a plan bring a sense of control at home that can strengthen us to deal with the things beyond our control. This is especially important in homes with young children or vulnerable family members. Predictable daily patterns are a source of great reassurance in such unpredictable times.

Respectful Relationships
There is no rule that we have to like everyone we live with, but when there is no getting away from them a modus vivendi is less a choice than a necessity. Respectful relationships recognise that people need different things and express themselves in different ways. That we can offend as much as we are offended. That we can praise as much as we need praise. The old adage “If you can’t say something nice, say nothing,” might have led to some quiet homes some days, but on the whole when no one can leave the house to cool off, this has not been the best time for “warts and all” candour.

Nature Cure
One of the telling distinctions of this crisis has been between those who have access to private outdoor space and those who do not. Again, anecdotally, there has been much in the press and elsewhere about the value of green spaces to our well-being. Those with gardens, backyards and balconies have had a social advantage at this time over those without. One of the harshest restrictions, after not being able to be with relatives, was the limit of time and activities outdoors. The ability to bring nature into the home has also been limited by the restrictions, but those who have shared this lockdown with pets have spoken of the very positive benefits of this over and above the difficulties. Similarly, even without a garden, schools have encouraged parents of children learning at home to grow plants from seeds, just using a window-ledge for small pots. These may seem tiny actions but the positive effect of tending and sharing space with the natural world bring far larger rewards.
The exercise of order, respect and care – for ourselves, those we live with and our environment – are human choices and disciplines which are largely independent of our personal circumstances. Those already suffering from the effects of poor housing, financial insecurity, ill-health, broken relationships, violence or addiction will have found this period harder to manage.

The next article in this series will look at some lessons for policy-makers from the places we all need to call home.

A big Thank you!

Two weeks ago we published the Communication Report: Home in the Time of Coronavirus.

“Congratulations on this report! What good voices and what good ideas!” from Argentina

We are very happy to see the great reception it has had. We have received hundreds of messages thanking us for this compilation of articles and testimonials. But the thanks are mutual. We are also very grateful to all the participants for not hesitating for a minute to say “Yes” to our proposal, and to all of you for receiving our news with such affection.

Many of the contributors to the Report have opened their hearts and closely shared what this quarantine means for them. This has allowed us to know more about what this virus is demanding of us as a society and as individuals. Without a doubt, the home has recovered its place as a vital centre and we must learn from the mistakes made before the virus.

“HRF is doing a fantastic job, furthermore, I enjoy the posts a lot. We are all in this together” from Thailand

The Report is a document that requires leisurely reading. We know that many of you have left the Report on file to read over the weekend. We remind you that there are six different chapters and that in them you can see how the different sectors have been facing the pandemic.

Those who have turned their home into a workplace, those who have made their offices into their homes as key workers. Those who have had enormous difficulties in surviving this situation because they live with people with disabilities who cannot stop receiving their therapies. But also those who are homeless, have lost their homes, and those whose homes are not safe places to live.

“Many congratulations on your report it represents an enormous effort on your part with a wonderful outcome which is entirely appropriate for these extraordinary times” from the UK

Covid19 has caused so many tragic deaths, but it has helped us to see the value of home. Our home now and always should be that place where one feels safe, cared for and loved. At HRF we are not going to stop working every day so that every human being has the chance to be born and grow in a stable and supportive home.

“I want to congratulate you for this very thoughtful initiative to produce a documentary about the Home and the context of the current pandemic” from Portugal