Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

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Towards a “New Normal” in the American Workplace - A Public Policy Platform on Flexible Work Arrangements

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

On the heels of First Lady Michelle Obama’s challenge to find ways to encourage employers to provide more flexibility to employees, Workplace Flexibility 2010, a Georgetown Law-based think tank, has released a new report outlining a comprehensive set of policy solutions to expand Americans’ access to flexible work arrangements (FWAs) such as compressed workweeks, predictable schedules, and telework.  The common-ground solutions described in the report can benefit both working families and businesses.

The report draws on decades of research on changes in the American workforce – dual earner couples are now the norm; older workers need to work longer to save for retirement; men and women want to share caregiving responsibilities; many lower-wage workers work nonstandard schedules and multiple jobs to make ends meet; and more people with disabilities are working but may need a range of supports.

This increased diversity and complexity within the American workforce – combined with intensifying global competition in a 24/7 marketplace – have raised unprecedented organizational and societal challenges that impact both employers and employees.  And yet, our workplaces have not caught up in a systematic or sophisticated way to these new realities.  We live in a world of changing individuals and often unyielding institutions.

Flexible work arrangements support employees who struggle to meet the demands of work while also fulfilling personal responsibilities – caregiving for a loved one, volunteering, attending religious services, or obtaining job training.  At the same time, they have been shown to help employers support their workforce, meet their business objectives, and increase their competitive advantage.

Workplace Flexibility 2010’s policy platform represents the culmination of years of in-depth conversations with employers, employees, managers, labor, researchers and advocates in Washington and across the country.  It provides a detailed blueprint for advocates, the White House, Congress and other policymakers to build on innovative workplace flexibility strategies – and highlights numerous examples of effective business practices.

In order to make FWAs the “new normal” in the American workplace, the report recommends five complementary prongs:

Spur a national campaign to make FWAs compelling to both employers and employees by:

Launching a strategic multi-media public education campaign; providing awards to recognize and encourage businesses to offer and implement FWAs; and conducting research on the impact of FWA practices on employees, businesses and communities and disseminating the findings.

Provide employers and employees with the tools and training they need to make FWAs a standard way of working by:

Making training and technical assistance on how to implement FWAs readily available to both employers and employees; launching a comprehensive website with information about the needs and benefits of FWAs, FWA best practices, model policies and procedures, and federal laws and programs; clarifying perceived legal obstacles to FWAs; and removing or considering the removal of actual legal obstacles.

Support innovations in FWAs, learn from those efforts, and disseminate lessons learned by:
Experimenting with new ideas through pilot programs – including piloting a right to request in the federal workforce; piloting FWAs for low-wage workers employed by federal contractors; and piloting private sector innovations such as mass career customization and team scheduling with new industries and employers.

Lead by example, making the federal government a model employer by:

Demonstrating high-level support for FWAs in the federal workforce; including FWAs as a key component of the federal government’s human capital management agenda; providing training, technical assistance, and resources to support the implementation of FWAs within the federal government; and regularly assessing how FWAs are working and affecting employees, the workplace and the broader community.

Build an infrastructure of federal, state and community players to implement the first four prongs of the effort by:

Engaging all the players at the federal state and community level who will be key to a successful effort, and creating the infrastructure at each of these levels necessary for an effective partnership among these key players.

This report sets the stage for a national conversation among employee and employer groups, other stakeholders and policymakers about innovative solutions that work well for both employees and employers.  Engaging in this conversation and embarking on the necessary action steps are key to equipping our American workplaces to meet the challenges of our 21st century workforce.

The full report is available at www.workplaceflexibility2010.org.

About the Authors: Chai Feldblum is a Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., Director of Georgetown’s Federal Legislation Clinic, and Co-Director of Workplace Flexibility 2010.

Katie Corrigan is the Co-Director of Workplace Flexibility 2010 where she, along with Chai Feldblum, is responsible for overseeing the strategy, legislative lawyering, policy research, media, and constituent outreach components of the effort.

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