How We Have Failed Working Families, And What We Can Do About It

When Michelle Obama attended the Corporate Voices for Working Families Annual Meeting in early May, she talked about the importance of work-life programs to working families and to the competitiveness of American business.

As we celebrate Work & Family Month during October, one of the points that Mrs. Obama made remains all too evident: There is an imbalance that exists for working families that allows people to fulfill their roles as employees, but not as parents.

And this is particularly true for hourly employees.

In conjunction with Mrs. Obama's talk, Corporate Voices released a comprehensive study that looks at workplace flexibility options and programs involving hourly employees, Innovative Workplace Flexibility Options for Hourly Workers.

Recent research about the value of workplace flexibility has focused primarily on management and professional workers. This study finds that workplace flexibility initiatives, when available for hourly employees, are as successful as those designed for professional staff.

And it demonstrates that businesses offering hourly employees flexible work options benefit through enhanced recruitment, retention, engagement, cost control, productivity and financial performance.

Equally important, we find that it is not only formal flexible arrangements that produce these impressive results but progressive personnel policies and a work culture supportive of occasional flexibility that give workers access to a variety of time-off options and control over their work schedules.

When companies provide employees with an array of flexibility and time-off options and an environment in which it is possible to access flexibility opportunities without barriers, employees develop their own strategies to use the options that best meet their individual needs and satisfy business requirements.

Highlights of the key findings of the report include:

  • Managers and employees agree that flexibility has positive benefits and adds value for the business and for the individual employee in key areas involving productivity, customer service, employee work-life effectiveness, stress and well-being.

  • For businesses, flexible schedules are an effective means of managing personnel costs, in particular overtime costs, which is a win-win for employees and employers.
  • More than 80 percent of employers and employees surveyed say flexibility is important to recruitment and retention.
  • In childcare, where there is a shortage of qualified early childhood teachers, flexible work options represents a key management strategy to recruit and retain individuals who are committed to their profession and to tap a wider labor pool than might be possible if the business offered a more limited work schedule.
  • Companies have found that offering flexible schedules and innovative time-off policies contribute to being an "employer of choice" for younger workers in their competitive labor market.
  • For positions in customer service and sales with typically high turnover, companies find that flexibility is a way to keep high-performing employees both in the short term and the long term. These companies use flexibility to respond to the changing needs of their workers at various stages of their lives and careers--going back to school, raising a family, or to retain mature workers.
  • Flexible work options are being used in businesses with continuous operations that need weekend coverage or whose business hours extend beyond a 9 to 5 eight-hour day. This includes voluntary part-time positions as well as flextime and compressed work schedules.
  • Working families -- from all socio-economic classes -- are the keystone of our nation's economic prosperity and competitiveness. Yet as a nation we have failed working families because public and corporate policy have not mirrored their needs or the world in which they now live and work.

    Work & Family Month presents a opportunity for all of us to consider the need for a new ethic of shared responsibility -- between the public and private sectors -- and launch a bold, new vision for supporting the lives of all working families so that they can continue to drive the competitiveness of American businesses in the 21st century.