At the same time we announced that nearly 60% of respondents to the 2007 Work+Life Fit Reality Check survey believe the next president should introduce legislation that would make it easier for organizations to offer and for individuals to have more flexibility, Congress took a first step. On December 6th, Ted Kennedy and Caroline Maloney introduced the Working Families Flexibility Act to Congress. Presidential candidates from the Senate, Christopher Dodd, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, are co-sponsors of the bill.
The U.S. is following the lead of other countries where flexibility primarily for caregivers has been a high profile political issue for quite some time. In England, work+life flexibility was a key part of the platform of Conservative Party candidate, David Cameron (see a blog I wrote about it in March, 2006). There’s been legislation passed in both New Zealand and Australia improving access to flexibility.
While they may have co-sponsored the newly-introduced legislation in the Senate, none of these candidates have made work+life issues and flexibility a core focus of their campaign speeches. This is surprising considering the fact that a majority of respondents across all demographics (except 55-64 year olds) want the next President to focus specifically on these issues. This is especially true for women, younger voters 25-34 years old, parents, and individuals without a college degree. All of these groups were significantly more likely to want the next President get involved. Below is a breakdown by demographic group of those who responded "True" when asked if the next president should play a role in making flexibility more accessible:
25-34 years old66%
35-44 years old59%
45-54 years old55%
55-64 years old44%
1 person household55%
2 person household53%
3+ person household63%
High School Degree65%
Why do people want the next President to step in? I believe it reflects a frustration with the pace of innovation and change inside of Corporate America. It’s taking too long for employers to offer work life flexibility to employees as part of their day-to-today business management. People want the government to step in and not only speed up the rate of change, but remove the stigma of pursuing flexibility.
That’s not to say that there hasn’t been some, albeit slow, progress. There has. According to the survey, 25% of respondents reported they had the work+life fit they need. While that’s still only 1 in 4, it’s an improvement from 15% the year before. Here’s another indicator of slow progress—only 37% felt that their employer saw flexibility as a business strategy for managing talent, workflow and resource. The other 20% thought it was a "perk," and 35% said that their employer didn’t offer any flexibility at all. So, we still have a long way to go, and people don’t want to wait.
The next President can begin to improve access to work life flexibility for families by supporting the legislation introduced last week. I don’t believe flexibility can be mandated, because there are too many variables in each person’s work and personal circumstances. However, as outlined in the Working Families Flexibility Act, the government can provide incentives for organizations and individuals by:
•Encouraging managers and employees to develop mutually-beneficial flexibility plans
•Protecting employees who propose to work flexibly, (but not guaranteeing the proposal will be approved, of course, because not every type of flexibility will work in every job, and not every employee performs well enough to work flexibly)
In addition to expanding access to everyone, other incentives not in the legislation could include:
•Rethinking the way work is done and creating new, more flexible, ways of working
•Encouraging flexibility in where, when and how work is done to reduce the environmental impact of commuting.
I want to be optimistic that the Presidential candidates will respond to those voices of the American workforce. But I think the reality is that the issue is not on their radar screens because most of them haven’t been in the business world trying to manage personal responsibilities for years, if ever. They don’t understand what the 24/7, high tech, global work reality looks like from the inside of an advertising agency, a law firm, a manufacturing facility, a school or a doctor’s office. And they don’t understand how important flexibility is to working and having a good quality of life in today’s world.
Just look at the fallout from Congress’ recent announcement that its members were going to start working "four days a week." What the leadership really meant was that members would telecommute from their home districts on Fridays. But they didn’t even have the language to describe what they were trying to do accurately. It wasn’t working less, it was working differently.
Will the next U.S. President at least support this new legislation and encourage a faster pace of change with regard to work life flexibility for everyone? If the majority of respondents to the Work+Life Fit Reality Check have their way, yes! What do you think?
(Go to my Work+Life Fit Blog for "How do 63% of Companies Without a Flex Strategy Survive?")