Congressional leaders are considering legislation that would establish an award lauding employers who implement innovative policies that help workers balance their work and their personal lives.
Testifying at a congressional hearing on the Work-Life Balance Award Act on April 22, 2010, Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Chief Global Member Engagement Officer China Miner Gorman called the award “commendable” and told legislators that the award should have criteria that incorporate employee and employer perspectives on workplace flexibility.
“Our profession believes in the competitive advantages gained by any employer who offers a truly flexible workplace environment,” Gorman testified. “Further, HR professionals know that many of the most successful programs and policies are the result of local initiatives and innovations designed to respond to employee needs—not from imposing a government mandate,” she said.
“Accordingly, SHRM continues to advocate an alternative approach that—for the first time—reflects the different needs of individual workers, plus the differences in work environments, union representation, industries and organizational size,” she added.
Brave New Work World
As technology continues to advance and allow many people to work remotely, several studies show that more employees are demanding flexibility in how and where they work—particularly Millennials. For example, a 2008 study by the Telework Exchange revealed that 82 percent of federal workers spend time working out of the office. Just 18 percent reported working from their office all day, every day. Flexible schedules for hourly workers are becoming more prevalent as well.
Although millions of leaves have been taken since the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was established in 1993, some workers are not covered by FMLA, “and, even if they are, most can’t take advantage of its provisions because they simply cannot afford to take unpaid leave,” said U.S. Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, who introduced the Work-Life Balance Award Act.
“About 8 percent of workers are fortunate to receive paid leave through their work, so we have a lot of room for improvement,” she said, adding that the United States lags far behind the rest of the world in providing paid leave and other work/life benefits to employees.
The bill is co-developed by Woolsey and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., who mothers a toddler. It would establish an award within the Department of Labor (DOL) to recognize companies that help employees balance the demands of their professional and personal lives. The bill would create a nine-member, independent advisory board within the DOL that would be composed of representatives of employee and employer groups who would develop award criteria and select recipients.
Advocates for working parents spoke out in support of the bill and offered suggestions for the criteria for the award. They included Carol Evans, president and founder of Working Mother Media, which publishes Working Mother magazine; Portia Wu, vice president of the National Partnership for Women; and labor attorney Victoria Lipnic, who on April 20, 2010, became a commissioner of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Men Benefit, Too
“There are 31 million women in this country who are both employed and have children under the age of 18 living at home,” Evans said. Women and men benefit considerably from work/life balance programs, she said, adding that many parents have been able to co-parent effectively because of them.
“Working men are also investing more time in child care, and many more Americans are assuming elder-care responsibilities—a trend that will intensify as our country’s population ages,” Wu added. “Strong work/family policies not only benefit workers and their families, they also benefit businesses. Such policies boost worker commitment, productivity and morale, and employers reap the benefit from reduced spread of disease and lower health care costs when employees and their families can seek preventive care or attend to urgent medical conditions.”
While SHRM has advocated that public policy should encourage organizations to offer innovative and flexible benefits and policies, it believes that “employers—not the government—are in the best position to know the benefit preferences of their employees.” Gorman provided legislators with SHRM’s Principles for a 21st Century Workplace Flexibility Public Policy.
“We’re pretty focused that any kind of one-size-fits-all solution is counterproductive,” Gorman said shortly after the hearing concluded.
Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM. Follow her tweets @1SHRMScribe.
Flexible Schedules for Hourly Workers Becoming More Prevalent, SHRM Online Benefits Discipline, July 2009
View China Gorman’s testimony via SHRM’s YouTube page.