Work+Life is Not About “Nice,” It’s About Long-term, Strategic, Global Competitiveness

Okay, here’s the deal:  Work+Life is not about being nice.  Yes, it is lovely to be nice, and helping people manage their work and life is the right thing to do.   But developing and implementing work+life strategies is about the long-term global competitiveness of our people, our businesses and our country.

Unfortunately, most of us don’t see it that way, and until we do we’re not going to move the needle any further in terms of meaningful change:

  • Companies will not fundamentally rethink the way they operate to incorporate both formal and day-to-day flexibility into their business model.
  • Individual employees will not understand the role they play in partnering with their employer to manage their work+life fit, and
  • Public policymakers will not implement thoughtful regulations that support work+life fit, but don’t stifle the flexibility that makes it an adaptable win-win for people and business in an era of rapid change.

Why don’t we get it? Here’s a clue.

Today, the National Partnership for Women and Families announced findings from a study by researchers at Harvard and McGill University entitled, Raising the Global Floor: Dismantling the Myth the We Can’t Afford Good Working Conditions for Everyone (hat tip: Eve Tahmincioglu).

The study examined “policies, protections and supports in 190 of the world’s 192 United Nations countries,” and the working conditions faced by 55,000 households in seven countries on five continents.

According to the study’s co-author, Jody Heymann, “The world’s most successful and competitive nations are providing the supports (to varying degrees– guaranteed paid sick leave, paid leave for new mothers, paid leave for new fathers, paid time off to care for children’s health, guaranteed day of rest each week, wage premium for mandatory overtime) the United States lacks, without harming their competitiveness.  Globally, we found that none of these working conditions are linked with lower levels of economic competitiveness or employment…In fact, we found a number of these guarantees are associated with increased competitiveness.”

Important, impressive stuff, right?   For twenty years, researchers at many of the top academic institutions and think tanks that focus on work+life issues have proven over and over again variations on this same theme.  So why no change?  As much as I wish this were not true and as much as I don’t think it is right:

Reason #1: The groups that historically fund and announce these findings tend to be focused on families, women, children.  Unfortunately, this runs the risk of eliciting a “That would be nice,” response rather than an urgent “This is critical to long-term, global competitive sustainability for all of us. Let’s do something.”  Think about how different the reaction would be if the National Association of Manufacturers or the U.S. Chamber of Commerce had co-sponsored or also announced the findings above with a call to action for every business leader and politician?

Reason #2: The language in the call to action associated with much of the research tends to include words like, “humane,” “family-friendly,” “support,” “programs,” “protections.”  For business this translates into “Expensive, limiting regulation that I’d like to avoid even if it sounds like a nice, albeit optional, thing to do in a perfect world.”    What if, instead, we used language like:

“The research found that by implementing a broad range of work+life strategies individual employees managed their work+life fit more effectively. And businesses reduced costs associated with retention, safety issues, health care, as well as provided better customer service, improved employee engagement, etc.”

“Nice” is nowhere in that statement, even though one of the outcomes would be much needed support for families.

What do you think?  How can we make everyone understand that work+life strategies are mission critical for long-term value-creation and sustainability, not just “nice” theoretical concepts to study, talk about and ponder in a perfect world?

Note: I’m submitting this post to the Working Mom’s blog carnival, which is part of the Fem 2.0 campaign to highlight the workplace experiences of everyday Americans.

2 thoughts on “Work+Life is Not About “Nice,” It’s About Long-term, Strategic, Global Competitiveness

  1. Since I started noticing the data on this in the mid 90s I have wanted to shout from the rooftops time and time again: worklife balance/fit/integration is ALL about the bottom line, sustainability, productivity and the gold standard, growth. Nice is well, nice. American business has been so hide bound and cannot get over the fact that whilst family and ‘soft’ issues groups might be driving the debate, that doesn’t equal “ignore”. Ignore at their peril. The old model will not provide competitivness in a few short years.

  2. Yes, yes, and yes! While employers see work-life efforts as NICE and not STRATEGIC things will continue to move slowly. I was at the congressional briefing on flexible work arrangements last month and, as you described, the majority of panelists were from research organizations focused on families or women. Happy to report that the US Chamber of Commerce was also on the panel and they see “workplace flexibility” as part of what is required to design an effective workplace. Need more business organizations tooting the work-flex horn!

Comments are closed.