In an election year of many “firsts,” one major “first” to celebrate is the fact that, for the first time, both presidential candidates have made work life flexibility part of their official economic platforms. This is huge!
On one level, I’m not surprised. In December of last year, more than 60% of the respondents to our 2007 Annual Work+Lfie Fit Reality Check said they believe the next President should introduce legislation that would make it easier for organizations to offer and individuals to have more work life flexibility. But I never imagined that both McCain and Obama would go as far as putting work life flexibility front and center in their presidential economic agendas. The symbolic importance is remarkable.
They both have recognized that flexibility in where, when and how work is done is a business issue, not just a “nice thing you do.” This is important because it positions work life flexibility where it should be, which is within the debate about economic competitiveness and effectiveness. Work life flexibility is a serious, business-critical strategy, but unfortunately too few businesses understand this fact, and still see it as an HR policy or perk. Hopefully this will put work life flexibility on the strategic radar-screen where it belongs.
Generally, their approaches are pretty similar. They would both:
• Spearhead efforts promote flexibility in organizations, and
• Continue to support FMLA, with Obama saying he would expand it; and
• Promote telework.
McCain also specifically addresses the need to deal with some of the systemic challenges to successful work life flexibility such as modernizing labor, making health care and retirement benefits more portable. While Obama talks more specifically about expanding child and dependent care supports.
And Some Misses…
Yes, there’s much to celebrate. However, there are couple points where, in my opinion, they are both missing the mark.
First miss: For the love of all things good and true, there’s one thing both Obama and McCain could do that would have an immediate impact–stop using the term work/life balance! There’s no right answer or “balance” that looks the same for all of us, only the “fit” between our unique work and personal realities. And every single one of us is completely different.
For too many people work/life balance means a magical, 50-50 split between work and life that they never achieve, so they feel badly. How can you be flexible and see the possibilities for your own work and life if you are only focused on the “balance” you perpetually don’t have? You can’t!
As part of their work life flexibility agendas, both candidates need to reframe the goal away from “balance,” toward using flexibility to meet our personal needs and the needs of our job today and throughout our life and careers. And that the solution will look different for all of us.
Second miss: Work life flexibility is a strategy we all need to use to manage our individual work+life fit, especially in the “always on,” “do more with less” global, competitive reality in which we operate. Unfortunately, both candidates focus primarily on families. Families absolutely need flexibility, but McCain and Obama are missing the opportunity to make the issue broader and more far-reaching.
The truth is we need to fundamentally rethink the way we work, manage our lives and run our businesses. By limiting the focus on “families” I’m afraid we will avoid having the real, yet harder, conversation and not undertake the difficult work to make these broader, fundamental changes. The work life flexibility debate must include everyone no matter what stage of life they are in. In the end, this will help families more.
So, join me. Take a moment to contemplate what it means that, whether it’s Barack Obama or John McCain, our next President has stated publicly work life flexibility is important to our future economic success. I believe it means a lot.
What do you think? Do you agree their support is an important “first?”