Benefits & Work-Life Focus

National Work and Family Month Celebration Calls Attention to Gaps
By Marcia Rhodes, WorldatWork

October represented a milestone for National Work and Family Month (NWFM), a national awareness campaign led by WorldatWork’s Alliance for Work-Life Progress (AWLP) that promotes work-life effectiveness as a key contributor to productivity and success in the modern workplace. This year, for the first time, WorldatWork harnessed the power of its social networks (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) to encourage dialogue about success factors for work-life programs. In addition, WorldatWork leveraged its presence in Washington, D.C., to educate and inform policymakers and the press. A Congressional briefing on work-life was held Oct. 18 on Capitol Hill, and on Oct. 19, the Senate passed a resolution reaffirming October as National Work and Family Month.

Also important was the cornerstone of the month-long campaign, a blogfest organized by WorldatWork and staged on The Huffington Post; it was the third blogfest there since National Work and Family Month began in 2003. Nearly 30 bloggers contributed. One theme resonated throughout: While much progress has been made, there are gaps to mind. These gaps can be found in three areas: the gap between beliefs and behaviors; the gap between theory and practice; and the gap between genders.

The Gap Between Beliefs and Behaviors
A 2010 study, “Men and Work-Life Integration” by WorldatWork and WFD Consulting, uncovered workplace trends showing employees suffer a variety of job repercussions for participating in work-life programs, even when their leaders insist they support the business value. Repercussions include receiving negative performance reviews or being denied a promotion.

“The good news is that 80 percent of employers around the globe avow support for family-friendly workplaces,” said Kathie Lingle, executive director of AWLP. “The bad news is they are simultaneously penalizing those who actively strive to integrate work with their lives.” (For more from Lingle, see her blog post offering five smart ways of initiating tough work-life conversations.)

Kyra Cavanaugh of Life Meets Work cited the same gap in her blog post “The ABCs of Workplace Flexibility”: “Don't assume you don't need a flex program just because employees aren't asking for it. A flex gap occurs when company culture or manager attitudes prevent employees from broaching the issue.”

The Gap Between Theory and Practice
Cali Williams Yost underscored the dangerous gap between theory and practice in her blog post “Work-Life’s Missing Ingredient — Clear Definitions and Good Implementation. In it, Yost discussed the gap between the conclusions of a recently published study on work-life and the real world. “Are Family-Friendly Workplace Practices a Valuable Firm Resource?” — a study by Nick Bloom, Stanford University, Tobias Kretschmer, University of Munich, and John Van Reenen, London School of Economics, published in the Strategic Management Journal in June 2010  — concluded that family-friendly workplace practices don’t positively affect the financial performance of a business. Yost argued that when organizations focus on improving utilization and access, as well as alignment with other good management practices that exist in the business, the financial return is proven and measurable, as has been her firsthand experience with numerous clients. The measurable outcomes include business continuity, expanded customer service hours without paying overtime to nonexempt staff, real estate cost savings and reduction in employee stress, to name a few.

The Gap Between Genders
Earlier this year, several well-respected organizations published separate studies on men’s perspectives on work-life. On Oct. 18, WorldatWork held a Congressional briefing, “What About the Men?”, to share findings from these significant surveys:

Moderated by Katie Vlietstra, public policy analyst at WorldatWork, panel members included Ellen Galinsky, president and co-founder, Families and Work Institute; Brad Harrington, Ph.D., executive director, Boston College Center for Work & Family; and Lingle. These work-life pioneers shared best practices on how organizations can remove the stereotypes and barriers that prevent men from using work-life offerings. The policy implication is that flexibility cannot be mandated because what you get is rigid flexibility, which is an oxymoron.

Conclusion
When it comes to work-life, progress has been made, but some serious gaps remain. If the goal is to bridge those gaps, then a fitting campaign slogan might be “Mind the gap.” But as one work-life practitioner suggested, instead of mind it, let’s mine it, turning challenges into opportunities for stronger public-private partnerships, enhanced employer-employee value propositions, culture change and clarity.


About the Author
Marcia Rhodes is manager of public relations at WorldatWork in Scottsdale, Ariz. She can be reached at marcia.rhodes@worldatwork.org.


Read the November edition of Benefits & Work-Life Focus.

Contents © 2011 WorldatWork. No part of this article may be reproduced, excerpted or redistributed in any form without express written permission from WorldatWork.

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