Q: Could you tell me more about the concept “work-family balance?”
A: Thank you for your question. In March of this year, President Obama and the First Lady hosted the White House Forum on workplace flexibility. One of the main products of the forum is the comprehensive summary of the current state of work-family issues presented in the report, Work-Life Balance and the Economics of Workplace Flexibility, written by the Executive Office of the President Council of Economic Advisers (www. whitehouse.gov/files/documents/100331-cea-economicsworkplace-flexibility.pdf). The 33-page report examines a variety of work-family issues, including changes in the national workforce, current policies and practices, flexible work arrangements that work and the economic benefits of workplace flexibility. Here are a few highlights from this report.
Changes in the United States Workforce
• Women comprise nearly one-half of the labor force.
• In nearly one-half of households, all adults are working.
• In 2008, approximately 43.5 million Americans served as unpaid caregivers to a family member over the age of 50. Nearly one-fifth of employed people were caregivers who provided care to a person over the age of 50.
• The increasing demand for analytical and interactive skills, those largely obtained through post-secondary educations, means it is all the more important and common for individuals to pursue additional education while also working.
Examples of Flexible Work Arrangements
• Allowing at least some workers to periodically change their starting and quitting times.
• Supporting employees being paid for work they do at home.
• Return to work gradually after childbirth or adoption.
• Take paid or unpaid leave for education or training to improve job skills.
• Work reduced hours over a period of time prior to full retirement.
• Move from full-time to part-time and back again, remaining in the same position or level.
• Share jobs.
• A study of more than 1,500 United States workers reported that nearly one-third considered work-life balance and flexibility to be the most important factor in considering job offers.
• In a survey of 200 human resource managers, two-thirds cited family-supportive policies and flexible hours as the single most important factor in attracting and retaining employees.
• Workers with more flexible arrangements report higher levels of job satisfaction, more loyalty and commitment to their employers and high likelihood of remaining with their employers for the following year.
• A survey of 120 companies reviewed by economists found that those that offered flexible sick leave and child care assistance had significantly lower rates for turnover. Other studies report that firms with more flexible telecommuting practices had lower turnover.
• In one employer studied, the year after a flexible schedule program was adopted, the work group with a flexible schedule reported a more than 20 percent reduction in absences.
• Growing literature links job stress to poor health (such as chronic hypertension and heart disease). And researchers are increasingly linking poor worker health to poor economic outcomes, such as lower productivity and slower economic growth. As a result, it is not surprising that recent studies establish a positive relationship between flexible workplace arrangements and worker health.
• In a large study of more than 700 firms in the United States, United Kingdom, France and Germany, researchers found a significant positive relationship between work-life balance practices and total factor productivity.