Inevitably, the Christmas period is a time which makes most of us reflect upon the value of family. Family traditions, and rituals (including the time honoured practice of waiting for the kids to go to bed so that you can finally play with the toys yourself) are an integral part of Christmas.
It is at this time that we ask ourselves the annual question : why can't life always be like this? The answer, of course, is that life isn't Christmas every day - and that for most of us the rigours of work often mean we are required to compromise both the pleasures and obligations associated with family life.
The problems associated with work interfering with family life are nothing new. Last year the Council of Trade Unions launched a campaign (entitled "Get a Life!") directed at drawing attention to the increasing difficulty of finding the right "work life balance".
The campaign was underpinned by a comprehensive research paper (which is available on the CTU website) examining the effect of work on employees and their families in the current marketplace. Amongst other things, the paper (which was based on a survey of 30 families) found that in the current environment:
technology meant that workers were able - and encouraged - to work longer (and often from home),
success in a job often required dedication to work resulting in longer and often unpaid hours, and
The paper recounted anecdotes from a number of workers suggesting that a result of their increased work burden was an inability to provide the desired amount of commitment to family life.
So - if we ever needed any confirmation - it seems that the empirical evidence supports a conclusion that the increasing pressures of working life cause many of us to compromise the level of commitment that we can offer to our families.
But what can we do about this problem? Our colleagues across the Tasman have offered a novel solution - which is perhaps worthy of some consideration.
Recently, the Community and Public Sector Union reached agreement with the Department of Education, Science and Training. Under the arrangement, employees are required to work an extra nine minutes each day - almost one additional week of work per year.
In return, those employees will be entitled to receive a 12% pay rise spread over three years, and will be given access to a range of family-friendly policies including:
flexibility in paid maternity leave - including an option for mothers to take a 12 week full-pay entitlement as a half-pay entitlement over 24 weeks;
an option to "buy" up to eight weeks' annual leave on top of the standard four week entitlement; and
The union expressed its delight at the employer's willingness to consider the obligations of family life beyond childbirth - in other words, going beyond the benefits required at law for parental leave.
Perhaps predictably, the introduction of this family-friendly agreement has met with differing reactions in Australia.
Unions have welcomed the agreement - and have suggested that a similar family-friendly attitude should pervade all workplaces.
On the other hand, employers' groups have expressed concern at the ability of small businesses to offer benefits of this type - and have cautioned against legislation which might require such benefits to be offered by all employers.
Whether similar arrangements will be negotiated in this country is something that only time will tell. However, if the evidence gathered by the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions is an accurate reflection of the changing face of the New Zealand workplace, it may be that a push for family-friendly policies in this country (such as those negotiated in Australia) might be a feature of bargaining here in the future.