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