Top Ten Work-Life Posts for 2013

From a ban on telecommuting to the invention of an iPhone ramen bowl, allowing employees to work and eat at the same time, this past year was filled with lots of disturbing work-life and workplace news.

But there were also signs of effective-and-flexible-work life!

We wrap up Families and Work Institute’s top ten blog posts for the year, and overall we’re encouraged by the progress U.S. workplaces have made and the growing drumbeat across the land to reinvent how work is done.

1. Legislating Workflex: Forcing Employers and Employees to Talk

Are you afraid to ask for flexible work arrangements to deal with family issues? Or, do you think your employees aren’t forthcoming about their work-life needs; and if they are do you worry requests for alternative work schedules could impact the bottom line?

Discussions about using flexibility in order to make work “work” better for employees and employers can be difficult and that’s why some people try to avoid them. But what if you were forced to sit down and talk?

One politician in San Francisco – David Chiu, the city’s Board of Supervisors’ President — decided employees and employers needed a “nudge,” so he introduced an ordinance to mandate such conversation, an ordinance that recently passed and goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2014. And the new edict is being closely watched by municipalities, and by employers, beyond the City by the Bay.

2. Top Workplaces When It Comes to Effective and Flexible Work

When it comes to creating an effective workplace, there are some employers that really get it, and today, the Families and Work Institute (FWI) and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) is announcing the top ten in the nation.

Earlier this year, FWI and SHRM released its list of the best employers in the country when it comes to what we like to call “sustainable workplaces.” These organizations offer employees everything from traditional workflex options such as telecommuting, to more innovative approaches such as compressed workweeks, employee control over hours, and unlimited time off.
Among the nearly 300 employers that received the annual workplace excellence award — also known as the Alfred P. Sloan Awards for Excellence in Workplace Effectiveness and Flexibility after the initial funder of the initiative – there were worksites that ranked among the highest based on employee feedback.

The worksites below had the highest scores overall, according to their employees, when assessing flexibility, engagement, supportiveness, culture and the ability to use flex-work options without penalty. The best part is that smaller companies are leading the way despite the common wisdom that they can’t be flexible with so few employees.

3. Hipsters and Suits Are All Rethinking Work

I got to experience two workplace meetings that on the surface seemed like two very different orbits. One was held in a trendy loft in Manhattan where hipsters brought dogs and attendees ate cakes out of mason jars. The other was held in a standard corporate conference room where business attire and strong coffee reigned.

Despite the contrasts, the mission of both gatherings was the same — make work work better by creating what we at Families and Work Institute sometimes call “sustainable workplaces.”

One meeting was the Conference Board’s Work Life Leadership Council — representing the stalwarts of Corporate America’s human resources world — and the other was the Work Revolution Summit – representing the tech-savvy entrepreneurial world.

The Council brought in young speakers to get insights on what men and women want and need out of work today. And the Summit brought in old speakers to find out what men and women want and need out of work today. (There were folks of all ages at both events, but I’m trying to make a point here.)

4. Work-Life Talk Video Series Debut!

Families and Work Institute launched a ten-part video series with some of the top thinkers in the work-life field, and the first in the series was Stephanie Coontz, director of research at the Council on Contemporary Families and author of A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s.

Our unprecedented series offers insights from individuals who helped shape the work-life and work-family discussion in the United States, and will surely spark a national discussion on the state of the workplace today — where we’ve been, and where we’re going.

5. It’s Not Your Father’s Royal Family

Will and Kate’s work-life fit fairy tale is indeed a fairy tale for most working parents.

In recent weeks the world has been watching the birth and introduction of the newest member of Britain’s royal family. Every morning show I watched last week was filled with discussions of this important event for the House of Windsor.

While every child’s birth should be considered an essential societal event the reality is we choose a select few to follow and use the start of their lives to exemplify the ideals of our society. Whatever the truth of their lives, celebrities, like Will and Kate and now their newborn son, become the resting place for society’s dreams about the “good life.”

6. Workflex Love For Some, Not All

Yahoo’s making workflex news again with an announcement today that it’s beefing up paid parental leave for men and women.

It’s heartening news from the tech company whose CEO Marissa Mayer came under fire recently for announcing a telecommuting ban.

As you can imagine, social media was all a twitter with Yahoo’s leave decision today with some employees seeing the move as further proof that working parents get special treatment when it comes to flexible work arrangements.

Here’s a tweet from @DickTracyOrlndo, who retweeted my tweet about Yahoo’s announcement:

Kidless people hosed again. MT @careerdiva: Yahoo expands maternity leave after banning telecommuting

The feeling of being hosed at work in this regard haunts not only employees but employers, who often wonder if these types of workflex programs can ever truly be seen as equitable. No good supervisors wants to be perceived as caring more about one group of employees than another. And no worker wants to think they’re not getting the same treatment as other works, especially if they work just as hard.

But creating an effective and flexible workplace doesn’t happen by divvying up equal pieces of the work pie for each employee. Employees are very different and so are circumstances of an employee’s personal life and even workload; and that can change monthly, weekly, even daily.

“The key to equity is you are addressing the needs of the people, not necessarily giving them equality,” explained Ken Matos, Families and Work Institute’s director of research. “We want to warn against getting into the debate of who’s getting what because then people with children and people without become enemies. It should be about what people need, period.”

7. Top Employers Helping Veterans

The jobless rate for veterans who have served since 9/11 is more than 9 percent, and even higher for younger and wounded vets, compared to 7.6 percent for the overall population, according to the most recent unemployment rate from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

We as a nation need to do more! That’s why Families and Work Institute’s board of directors created the Work Life Legacy Military Awards, an annual, national competition to recognize the top employers in hiring and supporting service men and women and their families.

“There’s a tremendous upside for hiring a vet,” said Admiral Michael Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a Families and Work Institute board member. “From a business case, it’s there. It’s there because of the discipline they have, the life experiences, the cultural exposure, the team mentality, the mission before self, their loyalty to an organization, their adaptability. They care about each other and care about people!”

8. Boston Bombing: Working After Tragedy

The bombings at the Boston Marathon has shuttered businesses in the area, and also spooked employees who work in Boston.

This from the Business Journal:

Following the horrific explosions at the Boston Marathon finish line that killed three and injured two dozen, a number of businesses in the area will remain closed.

Affected businesses include the Prudential retail mall, Copley Place and Crate & Barrel, among others. In fact, Boston police have said that businesses in the crime scene area will remain closed “for the forseeable future.”

Clearly, the City will resume business as usual soon, but in the aftermath of tragedies like this, many employers have ways of keeping operations up and running.

One example is a Boston firm with offices overlooking where a bomb went off. The company has been able to keep business going by having employees work from home.

9. Limits of the Stay-at-Home Spouse Fix

My job is just too demanding, just too complex for me to manage without a spouse or significant other at home taking care of the house and kids. We can’t both work and play meaningful roles at home.

There’s a school of thought out there that two parents with high-powered jobs just isn’t workable, and a front page story in the New York Times this past weekend followed this line of thought when it comes to big jobs on Wall Street.

According to the article, more and more women bankers apparently have spouses who stay home taking care of the kids and housekeeping:

In an industry still dominated by men with only a smattering of women in its highest ranks, these bankers make up a small but rapidly expanding group, benefiting from what they call a direct link between their ability to achieve and their husbands’ willingness to handle domestic duties. The number of women in finance with stay-at-home spouses has climbed nearly tenfold since 1980, according to an analysis of census data, and some of the most successful women in the field are among them.

Unfortunately, articles like this add fuel to the wrong assumption that if you have a tough job, one that makes lots of demands, you shouldn’t think you can meet the job’s requirements and also do right by your personal life.

The story is making a mountain out of a molehill; not to mention giving yet more credence to this as a solution to the issue of work-life fit.

10. Sign Your Workplace May Not Be Effective or Flexible

We’re all for the lastest gadgets to help employees get their work done faster, but this may be pushing the work-life envelope a bit too far.

I heard about a new product coming out that’s supposed to solve that pesky problem of juggling chopsticks, a soup spoon and your iPhone all at the same time that you’re trying eat a bowl of ramen noodles. The Anti-loneliness Ramen Bowl (the name already makes me feel a little sad) makes it possible for you to check your email, read your books, check in with social networks and presumably FaceTime with someone without actually taking a lunch break.

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