I spent the second half of last week at the annual Alliance for Work Life Progress (AWLP) “Forum” in Baltimore. I love this conference, because it’s small enough to be intimate—attendees numbered about nine-dozen-and-change, by my count—but big enough that there’s always someone new to meet. The crowd is a diverse mix of HR, work-life and wellness people from the corporate, non-profit, academic and government worlds, as well as researchers, vendors and consultants. Conference organizers exploit the cozy scale by building in lots of creative opportunities for small discussions and networking. It’s a little like work-life camp, minus the marshmallows.
Attendance swelled on the second night, in time for a dinner honoring 65 organizations that had been recognized with an AWLP Seal of Distinction, an annual recognition of employers that can boast work-life programs or policies in each of seven areas (health and wellness, flexibility, time off, etc). This year, the event doubled as an evening of moving tribute to retiring (or rewiring, as current lingo would have it) AWLP Executive Director, Kathie Lingle. I knew Kathie was a dynamo, but had no idea until the other night that she was partially responsible for the booming timber export industry in Chile(Tree-planting for the Peace Corps—need I say more?)
By the time the Forum ended, exactly two full days after it began, my head was fairly exploding with information and ideas. I’ll be putting out some blog posts this year based on some of things mentioned by various participants, but in the meantime, here are a handful of the cool things I learned:
- Mika Cross, Work/Life and Wellness Program Manager at the impressively-flexible U.S.D.A., reminded us that in an organization that has off-site workers, even those working on-site are mobile workers—they’re interacting remotely with their off-site teammates.
- According to demographer Jonathan Last (author of What to Expect When No One’s Expecting), the very existence of Social Security depresses the U.S. birthrate by “half a child,” as children are no longer so necessary to support us in old age. Another bit of financial news from Last: the total cost of raising a kid in the U.S. today is now $1.158 million, include public college tuition and 5 years of lost income for one parent.
- One conference participant suggested that to help themselves truly disengage during a vacation, employees should replace their tired “I’m out of the office” auto-reply messages with something more forthright: “I’m on vacation and not working this week. Please contact Ernie Tribble if you need anything.” Another participant talked about how her organization ensures vacations are work-free through careful planning, starting weeks ahead to plan for both the expected and the unexpected during an employee’s time away.
- Each year Christine Pfeiffer, Director of Pearson Learning’s “WorkLife Innovation People Team,” puts together a one page work-life value proposition and makes it available to all, so no one at the organization has to start from scratch when “selling” the business case for a work-life related proposal.
- Brigid Schulte, journalist and author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, talked about how the stories we tell about ourselves (as a culture) shape our perceptions—and our policies. For example, in Denmark, people who work long hours are not admired. They’re perceived to be somehow deficient—what’s wrong with them that they couldn’t get the work done in the time allotted? She contrasted this to the ethic embodied in an ad that personally has me reaching for the mute button every time it airs. (Another example she gave of stories affecting policy: A bill for universal child care in the U.S. in the early 70s was dead-on-arrival the moment Pat Buchanan announced it would “Sovietize” us.)
- One organization uses a “red card/green card” system for employees to signal (by hanging the card outside their doors/cubbies) when they need undisturbed time.
- In research conducted with graduating seniors from The Wharton School in 1992 and 2012, Professor Stewart Friedman, author of Baby Bust: New Choices for Men and Women in Work and Family, found that unlike previous generations, millennials see parenthood as a choice—one that increasing numbers say they won’t make. To avoid a birth-dearth in the coming years, Friedman says we need to strengthen our social infrastructure and change organizations—plus men have to lean in more on the home front. His suggestions for infrastructure fixes include: providing world-class childcare, revising the education calendar, relieving student debt (many young people say they can’t afford to have families), and providing both universal family leave and portable healthcare.
- Finally, another factoid from Brigid Schulte: when women work from home (in the U.S.), they do much more child care and housework than women who don’t telecommute. When men work from home, they do the same amount of child care and housework as their in-office counterparts.
I must admit, that I didn’t find that last bit of information all that surprising. But it’s high time we turned it from today’s reality to our children’s historical anecdote.
Do you have an interesting work-life-related practice to share? I’d love to hear it! Comment below, or send me a note and maybe I can feature it in a future post. Be sure to sign up to follow this award-winning blog to have it delivered directly to your inbox. And follow me on Twitter to get links to great content by smart people.