Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘2008 election’

What Will First Lady Michelle Obama's Work-Life Balance Efforts Look Like?

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

We have heard for some time that Michelle Obama’s pet concerns on the campaign trail, which she hoped to be able to continue while in the White House – and will indeed be able to after last week’s dramatic election finish for her husband, President-Elect Barack – are helping families create a healthy work/life balance and easing the struggles for military families.

It’s no wonder the former is an issue that’s close to Mrs. Obama’s heart.  This article from the UK-based Telegraph newspaper talks about her own work/life balance struggles, in three distinct phases of her life: while growing up on the South Side of Chicago and seeing an ailing father continue to work hard, and leave business matters at the office; while herself transitioning from the legal field to civic and community work after marrying Barack and having their two daughters, Malia and Sasha; and most recently while Barack was on the campaign trail.

Mrs. Obama even wrote a heartfelt essay on the topic of work/life balance last month on the popular BlogHer community of women bloggers.  Here’s how she spells out the plight for working women:

As we all know, our country is in the midst of a major economic crisis.  And we’re all feeling the effects.  …

And folks are feeling it at the workplace.  Because right now, thousands of women across the country don’t have family leave at their jobs.  And those who do can’t afford to take it because it’s not paid.  And 22 million working women don’t have a single paid sick day.

That’s just unacceptable.  Families shouldn’t be punished because someone gets sick or has an emergency.

This is from the employee perspective, but Obama’s cause has direct implications for small and midsize business leaders.  Morra Aarons-Mele, a graduate student specializing in women and leadership, framed this exceptionally well recently on The Huffington Post,

Why should we care about “work life” issues when our savings and retirement funds are literally halving by the day?  Because “work life,” as nondescript as it may sound, is the stuff that keeps American families afloat.  Work life refers to issues ranging from sick leave to health care to early education and child care.  It also encompasses flexibility and better work-life balance, which have strong effects on companies’ bottom lines and employee productivity.

So what would organizations’ employee engagement activities geared toward helping workers achieve a more harmonious balance look like – ideally – four or eight years from now?  Obama hinted at this during a plenary address she gave at our annual small business leadership conference two years ago, when she spoke about creating relationships between businesses and the community.

Community organizing didn’t just help Barack become President-Elect; it has also helped his wife use resources at her present employer, the University of Chicago (and later its Hospitals) to transcend both entities from simply a “name” in their neighborhood to a visible, tangible source of inspiration and assistance.

As we spelled out in our article summarizing her remarks at our event, Obama pointed to the creation of such initiatives as school “Principal-For-A-Day” and community fitness programs as ways to not only bring the University’s and Hospitals’ employees out in the open, but to better connect their passions to their work.

This model has been readily adopted, to great effect, by some of the firms we’ve since honored as Top Small Workplaces.  For instance, 2008 winner The Redwoods Group, an insurance provider for YMCAs and Jewish Community Organizations that’s based in North Carolina, requires its 100 employees to volunteer 40 hours of service annually to nonprofits.  A condition of their employment, the company argues this has contributed directly to their steady employee growth (27% over the last two years) – including the ability to recruit cost effectively – and industry-low turnover (less than 6% on average the last two years).

So one plausible – again, ideal – work/life balance scenario is the government serving an encouraging, perhaps advisory role in helping small business leaders adjust their employee engagement best practices so employees can focus their passions on helping their communities, while at the same time benefitting the organization through enhanced workplace team building and lower rates of absenteeism and presenteeism.

Do you concur?  Or do you see Obama’s work/life-related efforts playing out differently?

Cross posted at Winning Workplaces

How Small Business Could be Reshaped After Today's Election

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

Disclaimer: This post is not meant to be an endorsement of any party or candidate but, rather, an exploration of issues affecting small business as shaped by what will *most likely* happen at the polls today.

Today’s election will be historic, no matter the outcome.  If you’re anything near the political junkie that I am, you’ve been watching for the last few days the result projections of some of the major pundits from the basic and cable news networks, as well as from some of the bookies.

If there is a commonality here, it is that Barack Obama looks poised to win fairly big or really big; and that the Democrats will make gains in both the House and Senate – although the Senate “magic 60” number is still a far cry as of this writing.

Yet, if we assume the above, as David Gergen has noted on CNN, even without the Dems getting a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, they would still have a greatly enhanced ability to push through legislation that supports their agenda, with a president ready (on most issues) to sign it into law.

How would this scenario affect small businesses?  A look at four issues that are central to their survival and success – two of which have been covered at length by candidates of the two major parties and the media, and two of which have been largely ignored – offer a clue.

Taxes

  • Obama’s plan, as detailed on his website, stresses cuts in capital gains taxes and additional tax cuts for corporations that create jobs in the U.S.
  • The Democratic Party website also talks about efforts of the majority Democratic Congress (elected in 2006) to “slash regulations on small companies.”
  • Point of contention: The now-familiar “Joe the Plumber” caveat: Entrepreneurs who start businesses that generate more than $250,000 in annual revenues would see their taxes go up – albeit to 1990s levels.

Healthcare

  • Obama: Establishment of a new Small Business Health Tax Credit to help small firms provide affordable health insurance to their employees.  He has also talked about creating an insurance pool that individuals and small firms can pay into and receive the same benefits that members of Congress receive.
  • Democratic Party: Emphasis on cutting bureaucratic waste – chiefly by standardizing electronic medical records – that would, along with incentives to increase competition among health plans, reduce company-paid premiums over time.
  • Point of contention: Nationalizing healthcare, which would mandate the coverage of children, would keep costs high.

Changes in Labor Laws – Specifically Enactment of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA)

  • Obama: A Proponent of the EFCA; wants to make it easier for employees to form unions.
  • Democratic Party: Behind the EFCA. They also list a goal of raising the minimum wage.
  • Point of contention: The EFCA and federal increase in the minimum wage are both hotly contested issues, with adoption of both falling pretty squarely in the “workers, yay; business leaders, nay” columns.  Since the federal minimum wage was just raised in July, the EFCA bill, if it were highly modified, might stand a better chance of gaining the support of small business leaders in the shorter term.

Immigration Reform

  • Obama: Reduce the bureaucracy that slows the process for illegal immigrants to earn legal status, which he argues will “meet the demand for jobs that employers cannot fill.”  Crack down on employers that hire undocumented immigrants.
  • Democratic Party: Supports “economic development in migrant-sending nations, to reduce incentives to come to the United States illegally.” Long-term, this would ensure that tax dollars from businesses as well as individuals aren’t stretched as thin.  The party also echoes Obama’s above concerns.
  • Point of contention: This is a sticking point for leaders of some smaller firms that are actively hiring undocumented workers.  Most other business leaders seem concerned that their taxes are not raised for inadequate or unnecessary measures to secure our borders.

So, would a fly on the wall of a small organization in February 2009 see a noticably different landscape than in the same firm today?  Probably not.  Still, it doesn’t hurt to project how the probable shift in the balance of power in Washington after today will play out for these enterprises.  Who knows, it may even shape smaller-scale efforts – the things we love to talk about and help our clients refine – like employee engagement best practices and workplace team building.

What say you?

(Cross-posted from Winning Workplaces Blog)

Your Rights Job Survival The Issues Features Resources About This Blog