Workplace flexibility has been a hot topic, a highlight of which was President Obama’s White House Forum on Workplace Flexibility, televised earlier this week. The forum was designed as an opportunity for labor leaders, CEOs, small business owners, and policy experts to share their ideas and strategies for making the workplace more flexible for workers and their families. During the conference, the President compared flexible work schedules to the early stages of email: some companies have it, some don’t, but eventually, all companies will. Get ready employers – if you haven’t gotten aboard yet, the train may run you over!
With healthcare out of the way, the administration is freed up to focus on other priorities. During the campaign, then-candidate Obama included work-life issues as an important part of his agenda, committing to expand FMLA, to prevent caregiver discrimination, and to offer incentives to employers to expand flexible work arrangements. The forum indicates that work-life issues remain a focus of this administration. Although the Obamas now have a personal chef, chauffeurs, and other assistance to make their “balance” a little easier, I am sure that Michelle’s experience managing a demanding career and raising her two girls has helped to ensure this issue remains on the President’s radar screen.
The discussion has taken different varied focuses over the years, but the bottom line is this: for many reasons, in order to retain employees in the modern workforce, employers have to reinvent the old model of an ideal worker. Flexible work schedules are over and over again focused on as the reasonable way to accommodate the needs of both employer and employee. The impetus for employers to engage in this discussion has evolved a bit over the years.
First, employers were interested in the topic primarily due to the economics of investment in skilled workforce (particularly professional women), who often left the job because unable to balance their work and family responsibilities. Then Gen Y came along, with both males and females placing a greater value on “down” time, whether with family or pursuing other activities. Gen Y consistently ranks workplace flexibility among the most desirable employment benefits. With the economic downturn, the discussion turned to how flexible schedules could immediately help the bottom line (4-day workweeks, voluntary reduction in hours for reduction in pay, etc.).
Law and politics have not shied away from the discussion: both Republican and Democratic administrations have made important advancements to the cause of work-life balance. In 2007, the EEOC under the Bush administration issued it Enforcement Guidance: Unlawful Disparate Treatment of Workers with Caregiver Responsibilities. In 2009, Obama’s administration issued Employer Best Practices for Workers with Caregiver Responsibilities, which focused primarily on flexible work arrangements. The White House Forum has work-life balance advocates everywhere eager to see what will come next!
See these related posts for more about work-life balance: