All would agree that the workforce has changed. Increasingly, employees are experiencing a time famine, or a feeling of not spending enough time with loved ones or having enough time for themselves. There are now four generations in the workforce and four in five of all employees who are married are in dual-earner couples. One of every five employees currently provides elder care and this number will increase dramatically to almost half of the workforce over the next several years. And, it is no surprise that employed men, especially working fathers in dual-earner households, are experiencing more work-family conflict than in the past.
The workplace is also undergoing important transformations. The global marketplace runs on a 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week economy, and technology has enabled greater mobility for organizations. The current economic situation has increased employee stress levels, and surveys suggest turnover is set to increase as the economy improves.
For far too long, however, a structural mismatch between the needs of the 21stcentury workforce and the norms of the 20thcentury workplace has prevailed. Research from the Families and Work Institute (FWI) confirms this has been especially true for men. As The New Male Mystique research highlighted, traditional views about men as breadwinners are now colliding with emerging gender role values that encourage increased family/household involvement by fathers. In workplaces that may not yet fully support these roles, fathers experience more pressure “to do it all to have it all.”
Consider, for example, a recent SHRM survey in which 95 percent of HR professionals said they made no special effort to ask fathers what they needed in terms of workplace flexibility. Now more than ever, it is important for HR professionals and their organizations to identify strategies to support the work-life needs of all employees to improve engagement and morale, increase productivity, retain top performers and, ultimately, improve business performance.
In 2011, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) partnered with FWI to deliver workplace flexibility research, education, and best practice information to HR professionals to help them implement flexible work environments. This partnership also made When Work Works (www.whenworkworks.org), a nationwide initiative to create more effective and flexible workplaces for the 21stcentury.
Working with over 20 community partners across the country, When Work Works provides education on the business benefits of flexibility and shares research and information on effective and flexible workplace practices. By leveraging SHRM’s network of chapters and state councils going forward, the goal is to integrate this important initiative in even more communities and states, expanding the reach to influence even more organizations.
The centerpiece of the When Work Works initiative has been the Sloan Award for Excellence in Workplace Effectiveness and Flexibility, a nationally recognized award for organizations that are using workplace flexibility as part of their business practice. Winners of this prestigious award have been selected through a rigorous application process that incorporates employer and employee surveys. Sloan Award winners represent employers that are making work “work” better for both the bottom line and for employees.
gDiapers, a direct-to-consumer retail diaper business with 18 employees in Portland, Ore., is a great example of an organization making work “work” better – for fathers, too! This small company was founded by Jason Graham-Nye (who I had the distinct pleasure of meeting recently), and his wife, Kim. In Jason’s homeland of Australia, he and Kim learned that every day 5,000 diapers are put in landfills, where they stay for 500 years. That led them to the conclusion that a flushable, biodegradable diaper was needed. And so their business was born!
As parents themselves, it’s no surprise Jason and Kim have built a company that believes the key to attracting and maintaining a high performance organization is to provide family-centric flex options for all its employees. Not only does it offer subsidized onsite child care, three months paid maternity and paternity leave and four weeks paid time off from year one, gDiapers also provides flex-time work opportunities to allow parents more flexibility with child care and emergencies at home.
These are exactly the promising and innovative practices When Work Works seeks to uncover. By highlighting these effective and flexible strategies – that not only help employees meet their work and life demands but also help organizations achieve business results – we can help make workplace flexibility the standard way of working in the United States.