Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘michelle obama’

White House Boosts ‘Flexible’ Workplace, As 15 Million Still Seek ANY Workplace

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

The White House on Wednesday took time out to promote the value of a flexible workplace that can accomodate two-paycheck families. With 15 million people officially unemployed, it made one nostalgic for a time before the recession, when people worried about the quality of their work lives rather than about just finding a job.

But allowing workers flexible schedules so they can balance their work and family lives isnt just a luxury that should be reserved for flush economic times. As Michelle Obama pointed out at the event that included business and family advocates, “So it’s something that many of the companies here today have discovered, very fortunately, that flexible policies actually make employees more, not less, productive.”

To underscore that point, the White House Council of Economic Advisers released a report that, the White House noted, “discusses the economic benefits of workplace flexibility—such as reduced absenteeism, lower turnover, improved health of workers, and increased productivity.”

Still, there might be a way to combine workplace flexibility with job creation — by adopting the proposal of Dean Baker and others to use unemployment insurance or other funds to help keep people on the job but working fewer hours.

Unfortunately, that sort of approach responding to the clamor for work didn’t get as much attention as innovative ways to promote flexible hours for employees so they can juggle personal and work obligations.  As the Huffington Post’s Dan Froomkin reported:

Two out of three American families are so-called “juggler families,” in which parents are forever trying to balance the needs of their job with the needs of their children.

But many workplaces — and government policies — are still stuck in the distant past, operating as if most families still had a single breadwinner, and someone else to mind the kids when they’re out of school, or the grandparents when they need care.

Once you realize that, there are a bunch of employer practices and policy proposals that suddenly make a lot of sense: Encouraging telecommuting, giving people time off for family emergencies, enabling flexible schedules, allowing employees to swap shifts, and so on…

As part of his push, Obama cited a new White House report which concludes that flexible workplace rules could increase productivity.

But he also cast the need for more humane workplaces in moral terms. “[U]ltimately, it reflects our priorities as a society — our belief that no matter what each of us does for a living, caring for our loved ones and raising the next generation is the single most important job that we have. I think it’s time we started making that job a little easier for folks,” he said.

Even so, feminists and others who have promoted these concepts for years are now sharpening their arguments about the need for making such reforms in hard times. As Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute pointed out, in advance of the conference:

We had a preview of the Forum last week in DC at the Work Life Conference, co-convened by the Families and Work Institute and The Conference Board. Speaking at the conference, Martha Coven of the White House Domestic Policy Council said that some might argue that employees are lucky just to have jobs, that companies have to focus on meeting their payrolls, and that the government needs to get the economy back on track and stabilizing it. They ask, “why workplace flexibility; why now?”

That is a false choice, she countered. Workplace flexibility is something that we have to do not only when times are good, but when times are bad. Workplace flexibility will help our businesses AND our families thrive.

While promoting “flexible workplaces” won’t do anything to stop the distorted GOP onslaught targeting Obama over jobs, he stood up for the imporance of the issue—and made clear its broader benefits.

“Workplace flexibility isn’t just a women’s issue. It’s an issue that affects the well-being of our families and the success of our businesses,” said  Obama. “It affects the strength of our economy – whether we’ll create the workplaces and jobs of the future that we need to compete in today’s global economy.”

As a White House press released noted, Obama has taken the issue seriously enough to place it alongside other intiatives that aim to level the playing field for women — and strengthen out economy by promoting full and fair participation in the workplace:

“Employers, including the federal government, will have to implement flexible work policies if they want to attract the best and the brightest,” said Valerie Jarrett, Senior Adviser to the President and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls. ” The President is committed to making sure that the federal government can compete for talent because he knows that good people produce better work, which in turn, leads to better service for the American people.”

*This post originally appeared in Working In These Times on April 1, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author Art Levine is a contributing editor of The Washington Monthly, and a former Fellow with the Progressive Policy Insititute. He has also written for Mother Jones, The American Prospect, The New Republic, The Atlantic, Slate, Salon and numerous other publications. He is the author of 2005’s PPI report, Parity-Plus: A Third Way Approach to Fix America’s Mental Health System, and is currently researching a book on mental health issues. Levine also posts commentary at Art Levine Confidential.

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.

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

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