While my work life cohorts were dishing out some pretty intense discussion at BlogHer this past weekend at the Screw Work/Life Balance, We Need Work/Life Policy session, I followed the conversation on twitter, poolside. Frustrated that I was unable to attend, I was still moved by the passionate debate provided by my twitter-stream view thanks to Stephanie Wilchfort @TheMamaBee, Morra Aarons-Mele @Morraam and hashtag #goodwork. (check out their blogs for more on the session) It got me thinking. I am not one for regrets, but missing this event got me agitated and sent me into a mode of contemplation.
Need there be a revolution in the way we tackle work life issues, an evolution of policy and individual and organizational responsibility, or a grassroots movement that slowly wakes everyone up to the fact that the way we are working is simply not sustainable as we head for burnout?
A Cultural Shift in Perspective
From my perspective, it’s not work life balance that we FIRST need to be striving for or even revamped policy. Instead it’s a complete cultural shift. A tall order. Big business needs to better value the people who are working for them. They need to understand that investing in their so-called “human capital” is not only a bottom-line issue, but the humane thing to do.
Numbers are crucial but what about the people?
We can link the use of certain employee assistance programs and flexible working policies to productive results as my colleague and friend Cali Yost of WorkLifeFit.com often writes about in her blog. (Check out her latest post on the FastCompany blog: Yes, Flexibility Increases Productivity and More, Favorite Flex Research/Resource Links) But organizations have to first want to look at the statistics and be open to the “human element” of their business. Productivity and profit all too often trump the “people” component of the equation. Businesses have to “care” enough about the well-being of their employees, to listen to their needs.
Policy reform is not a panacea, but a catalyst for conversation
Question is, can employees toot their own horn on the issues important to them like flexible working practices, maternity or paternity leave, sick pay, paid vacation, etc, without being ostracized or punished? What might make it “ok” for workers to voice their concerns and for C-suite leaders to listen, is the ongoing public push for changes in work and family policy.
Policy reform is not the answer in itself, in fact it’s an arduous process in which results must come at a compromise, if at all. But the journey keeps the conversation alive. In that public arena, discussion takes place among the advocacy organizations pushing for policy change, the research institutes presenting the arguments for reform, and the bloggers who are making substantial noise on the internet.
As blogger Chrysula Winegar recently tweeted “#Worklife is a holy trinity of individual, corporate, and legislative responsibility.” Discussion raises the bar on the conversation and keeps the topic alive no matter the direction. As we say in news and marketing, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. We should start worrying when people stop talking about worklife issues. So…what is your lens toward better work life policies across the board?
Is REVOLUTION what we’re talking about? That could mean a socioeconomic and cultural shift. But to revolt is to overthrow authority, to oppose and/or refuse. It’s a start, but we have to ask ourselves if we then demonize big business and the establishment in general; the entities which are a necessary part of the conversation. To define the work life debate as such means we have a foe. Who or what might that be? Is it corporate America, the societal dictates which have created expectations which put profit above people, generations of equating success with image and economic prosperity, decades of discrimination against women in the workplace, or the shunning of family concerns in favor of 24/7 capitalistic world? Revolution shakes people up and triggers critical thinking, but to be sustainable it needs the support of the people including those in the C-Suite. Still revolution might fit the bill.
Perhaps EVOLUTION feels better. To evolve means to develop or achieve gradually, to unfold, to a style of ones own. The last few words are mint, “a style of ones own.” Creating a work life fit (Cali Yosts preferred term) means individual participation in that formula. We examine what’s working and what isn’t. The exploration of policy already in place, (ie. Family Medical Leave Act) perhaps toward expansion and better understanding. Embracing flexibility programs as more than company perks, and instead as an instrument to shift company culture. That would mean an organic shift in the consciousness around work life issues in a way that transcends current policy, while including what has been working. But to evolve means certain mind sets have to already be in place. The acceptance of the fact that the coming catharsis is a necessary part of growth and sustainability.
Ah, MOVEMENT. The act or an instance of moving; a change in place or position. Movements can certainly involve revolution and evolution. Old ways of doing things become stale, repetitive, lose their mojo and ultimately are ineffective in bringing about necessary change and results in a new environment. Case in point, we’re in a 24/7 global hi-tech marketplace where women have become more than half the workforce, employees are caring for their elderly parents and children, boomers are retiring which will lessen the work pool, and Gen Y has arrived on a silver platter. But are movements too slow? Are the aforementioned concerns already pervasively dampening the ability to sustain ourselves in the changing socioeconomic climate? If so, then we have to ask ourselves if not now, when?
I’d say we’re in for a work life culture shift but what is the best road to take?