Railroad Strike Averted but Work Life Fit Issues Still a Major Risk

This past week I’ve been fascinated, but not surprised, that the looming strike by railroad workers hinged not on money, but on their ability to fit work and life together.

Analyzing legislation that averted a possible railroad strike, the New York Times noted Sunday that “Congress stepped in to prevent supply chain havoc, but rail workers’ biggest grievance remains unaddressed.”

Still on the agenda, “Without a doubt, there is more to be done to further address employees’ work-life balance concerns,” stated American Association of Railroads CEO Ian Jefferies in a Reuters story.

Per NYT coverage last week, “Rail workers have said their top concerns are the grueling, unpredictable schedules that take a toll on their personal lives and their health. Many have complained that extended time on the road and long stretches of on-call work make it difficult to see a doctor for an illness or injury, or to be present at family milestones like a child’s birthday.”

The risk of the strike and the ongoing grievances about lack of paid sick leave and “draconian scheduling policies” considered too unpredictable, inflexible, and punitive reflect three important truths about why “work+life fit” and broader work flexibility should be viewed as a strategic business imperative:

1) Flexibility is not a “women’s issue” since 95% of the 35,000 railroad conductors in the U.S. are male. It’s an “everyone” issue. We need to de-gender (de-age and de-reason) flexibility.

2) Decisions regarding how, when and where people work may look good on paper (Precision Schedule Railroading–PSR–was likely seen as a great system that would reduce costs and increase efficiency), but if they don’t consider the lives of real people, they will fail (and ultimately cost more in turnover or, in this case, a possible strike that could have crippled the economy).

3) Money will only go so far. Not even a 24% pay increase is enough to offset the desire for penalty-free flexibility and PTO to fit work and life together.

Organizations in all sectors would be wise to pay attention and learn from this real-time business and economic risk scenario. Especially those issuing return-to-office and other one-size-fits-all policy-based mandates.