Flexibility in the Workplace.

The White House Council on Women and Girls is holding a forum on workplace flexibility yesterday afternoon, on the heels of a report on how much businesses can gain by creating workplace atmospheres that allow workers to, within parameters, pick their own work schedules, take more leaves, or work from home.

Workers should be assured they can do that without jeopardizing their careers.

While most of the participants were women, many took pains to note that this isn't just an issue women should advocate for to avoid the "mommy trap" criticism. A primary driver of increased need noted in the report is the increase of women in the workplace. But that just means many children (nearly half) live in homes in which all the adults are working. Many adults also need to take care of elderly parents. The report notes that many firms say they allow flexibility for some or many of their workers, but fewer workers, less than 40 percent, say they feel that their places of employment are flexible. Broken down, the numbers seem to depend more upon on education levels and type of job than gender.

Many employers noted how much money they saved by allowing workers flexibility, partly because they could retain them longer and had a more productive work force, and some participants said in a roundtable that the companies who don't institute such policies will just fail. Ultimately, that means you don't need to mandate such reforms, right? But employers still have the upper hand in setting workplace culture, and employees don't often have choices as to where they're going to work. That's especially true in this economy, and even more true for people who can't get the kind of higher-level jobs that are more likely to be flexible. One woman, whose name I missed, said the most disenfranchised will just be more and more left behind without legislation or, at least, government incentives. That's often left out of such conversations.

-- Monica Potts

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