In today’s difficult economy, we are all more acutely aware of the changing nature of work in this country. American employees are increasingly concerned about job security and losing crucial benefits–while the demands on them in a 24/7, global marketplace have intensified exponentially. Many employees are working more hours than ever before, while others–especially low-wage workers and those in the growing contingent workforce–have little or no control over how many hours they will work in any given week.
As our workplaces have become more demanding, the demographics of the American workforce have shifted dramatically. For most American families, the reality of today’s economy is that both members of a couple must work full time–and even that leaves many families stretching to cover the rising costs of gas, groceries, and health care.
As a result, many American employees struggle to meet the demands of work while also meeting family responsibilities as critical as caring for a sick child. Indeed, the need for workplace flexibility among American employees of all ages, professions, and income levels is urgent. A significant majority of workers report that they do not have the flexibility they need to succeed at work and still fulfill serious personal obligations–be it caregiving for a child, a spouse, or a parent, volunteering in the community, attending religious services, or obtaining advanced training.
Workplace flexibility: an approach that encompasses options from flexible work schedules and telecommuting to extended time off and phased retirement–is a solution at the crossroads of a myriad of pressures facing our workforce. Flexibility can help ease the intense strain felt by millions of American workers trying to balance work with the needs of their families. For example:
- Telecommuting programs, compressed work schedules, and other flexible work arrangements can help employees deal with gas prices–while also helping employers reduce office energy costs;
- Phased retirement programs can provide older employees with opportunities to work flexibly–so that they can retain income and benefits and employers can retain their needed skills; and
- Flexible work arrangements and various forms of time off can improve employee health and well-being–allowing workers to better care for their families while also improving job performance.
The benefits of these and other types of flexibility are already being seen in workplaces across the country–and workplace flexibility is now being used as a strategic management tool in a diverse range of industries. By reducing turnover rates, boosting recruitment, and enhancing efficiency and performance, a growing number of business leaders are recognizing that flexibility can actually increase their competitive advantage.
Workplace flexibility can support both employers and employees in meeting the demands of the 21st century economy. But in order to make workplace flexibility a new standard of the American workplace, we must not only encourage voluntary business practices–but also develop consensus-based, common-sense public policies that work for families and in the marketplace.
Over the last several decades, the policy debate around the intersection of work and family has been plagued by a political stalemate. But we believe that through meaningful dialogue with business leaders, labor representatives, family, aging and disability advocates–and policymakers from both sides of the aisle–we can develop comprehensive workplace flexibility solutions that bridge political divides in Washington and beyond.
As workplace flexibility becomes an integral part of the American workplace, we believe it will ultimately support more effective business, a stronger workforce, and healthier families. And those are standards we can all agree on.
For more information on Workplace Flexibility 2010 and our consensus-building process, visit www.workplaceflexibility2010.org.
About the Authors: Chai R. 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 and an Adjunct Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center.