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Workplace Flexibility Report Adds to National Debate 
 

5/14/2009  By Kathy Gurchiek 
 
 


A new report from Workplace Flexibility 2010 outlines a comprehensive set of policy solutions that the Georgetown University Law Center-based think tank hopes will serve as a blueprint to expand Americans’ access to flexible work arrangements (FWAs).

“We believe workplace flexibility is good for employers and employees, so it’s worth the effort to get it right for employers and employees,” said Chai R. Feldblum, the organization’s co-director and a professor of law at Georgetown, during a May 13, 2009, news conference where the report was released.

Workplace flexibility covers a variety of approaches—the scheduling of hours worked, such as nontraditional start and end times and compressed workweeks; the amount of hours worked, such as job sharing, phased retirement and part-time work; and the place of work, such as a satellite location or home, according to the report.

The report, the work of a 22-member bipartisan National Advisory Commission on Workplace Flexibility, is the culmination of five years of conversations with employers, employees, managers, labor representatives, researchers and advocates, according to Feldblum.

It outlines a range of solutions for expanding access to FWAs, including encouraging the federal government to lead by example. It proposes actions the federal government can take to set an example for all employers, such as:

·       Training managers in developing flexible work arrangement programs and policies and in assessing jobs to determine their suitability for FWAs.

·       Rewarding federal agencies that have excellent FWA programs and rewarding supervisors who manage flexible work arrangements well.

·       Developing and supporting additional FWA infrastructures.

·       Instructing the Office of Personnel Management to conduct annual measurements on the availability and utilization of various FWAs to employees of various federal agencies.

·       Instructing the Government Accountability Office to conduct an annual impact assessment.

Workplace Flexibility 2010 would like to see flexible work arrangements become “standard operating procedure” and “included in the sinews of the business,” Feldblum said.

“We believe it represents an important first step in identifying and implementing common-sense policy solutions that can work for all of us,” she said in a press release.

The 42-page document contains sections such as how to lay the groundwork for employers and employees, including clarifying perceived legal obstacles or removing—or considering removing—actual legal obstacles to FWAs.

The organization’s hope is that its report, Public Policy Platform on Flexible Work Arrangements, will set the stage for a national conversation and will be used by policy-makers to make flexible work arrangements the norm.

Andrea H. LaRue, a small-business owner, mother and member of the commission that worked on the report, noted the importance of retooling the business landscape to reflect today’s economy.

“We really are walking into a new economy with new rules, and American families need to be a partner in defining those rules,” she said during the press conference.

Improving work and family balance is among the goals of the White House Task Force on Middle Class Working Families, and First Lady Michelle Obama has publicly urged employers to implement work/life strategies such as child care and flexible work options.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) applauded Workplace Flexibility 2010 for “advancing the conversation with its thoughtful look at the issues,” SHRM president and CEO Laurence O’Neil said in a May 13 statement.

“All stakeholders need to come to the table and craft workplace flexibility and leave policies that meet the needs of employees and employers for the 21st century,” O’Neil said, adding that “SHRM has committed to leading efforts on developing a modern approach to work/life balance.”

SHRM sent a letter to all U.S. senators and representatives on May 7, 2009, announcing its commitment to lead the debate over a 21st century workplace flexibility policy that meets both employer and employee needs. The organization also included a set of principles it would like to see applied to federal leave policy. Among those principles, SHRM seeks a federal policy that would:

·       Encourage employers to offer uniform and coordinated paid leave.

·       Create administrative and compliance incentives for employers who meet the leave standard.

·       Provide certainty, predictability and accountability for employers and employees.

·       Allow for different work environments, industries and organizational size.

The growing demand for flexibility and work/life balance also was reflected in SHRM’s 2008 Employee Benefits Survey.

“It’s not that people don’t want to work hard. It’s that people need to work differently,” said Anne C. Weisberg, director of talent for Deloitte, who was among the speakers for Workplace Flexibility 2010. Deloitte employs about 40,000 people in the United States.

“It’s a way to be more competitive,” she said, “in an economy that’s changing at an incredibly faster rate.”

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News. She can be reached at kathy.gurchiek@shrm.org.


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