Happy New Year, everyone!
Back at Thanksgiving, I wrote a post about work-life-related progress in 2016. This week, like many of us, I’m thinking ahead. I’m not much of a believer in New Year’s resolutions, and, in any case, the kinds of things I’m thinking about aren’t in my (sole) power to bring about, so these are more along the lines of wishful thinking. Let’s say they might be what I’d be dreaming of if I were just now blowing out the candles on a birthday cake for the nation:
- Let’s take universal health care forward—not backward. Since its launch, the Affordable Care Act has provided more than 20 million Americans with coverage, including 6.1 million young adults who are now covered under their parents’ plans and millions of others who were previously uninsured because of pre-existing conditions. Yes, it has its problems—including that it hasn’t always gotten the “affordable” part down. But it is a major step in the right direction—let’s not let it be destroyed on the altar of politics.
- Let’s give people the flexibility they need to do their jobs and live their lives. Formal, embedded programs are hardly mainstream; isn’t it about time more companies took the time to create them and to develop them in new directions, like phased retirement?
And what about more basic, informal, humane approaches to the current culture of rigid inflexibility at so many workplaces? In the world of movies and advertising, employees seem to be constantly working from their living rooms, or breezing in and out of offices at any old time. In the real world, not so much. On New Year’s morning I was disheartened to read a letter from a single mom to an advice columnist. She wondered how to deal with the fact that her boss had taken her to task for habitual lateness—the result of having to drop her child at school each morning before rushing to the office. Come on, now. How could this kind of added, completely unnecessary stressor in the poor woman’s life possibly be benefiting her employer?
- Let’s get everyone more paid leave. The research is out there: it’s good for employers, it’s good for parents, it’s good for kids, it’s good for society. Not to mention that the United States lags behind pretty much the entire world in this matter. What more is there to say?
- Let’s ensure people take their vacations. Vacations are good for you. They are linked to fewer stress-related physical ailments, greater cardiovascular health, better sleep and improved productivity—to name just a few of the health benefits I’ve seen cited. But while, according to a recent report by Expedia, employees in countries including France, Brazil, and the United Arab Emirates use every one of the 30 days off per year they receive, U.S. employees tend to take only 12 of their (on average) 15-day vacation allotment. In fact, nearly a third (29%) of surveyed employees said they typically go more than a year between vacations, and 6% said they take no vacation time at all.
- Let’s make sure people get paid a decent wage. Contrary to popular belief, people living (or trying to live) on minimum wage are not primarily teenagers. But they are more likely to be women. Yet in the U.S., it is quite possible to work full-time and still live in poverty. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the cost of living has increased by nearly 12 percent since the last time the federal minimum wage was raised, in 2009, and as of last October, the federal minimum wage still applies in 21 states. Not only that, but many feel the poverty level, as defined, is unrealistically low —here in New York City it doesn’t take a terribly sophisticated understanding of economics to see that no one could afford the basic necessities of life on $13,000/year—yet that is above the federal poverty threshold for a single individual.
The good news: in 2016, the minimum wage rose in 17 states (the result of legislation that had been passed in prior years) and 4 states passed ballot measures that will raise their minimum wage by the year 2020. Let’s keep up the momentum!
- Let’s keep working to get women equal pay and equal opportunities at work. This has been said so loudly and so often, I hardly know what more to say about Here’s a relatively recent “research round-up” from Harvard Business Review on the state of women at work. As you’ll see (if you didn’t already know), women continue to dwindle in numbers as they climb the corporate ladder; they continue to “opt out” of work because work does little or nothing to make room for their family responsibilities; they continue to be given less-important projects and smaller budgets than their male counterparts; and they continue to face insidious, often unconscious bias in hiring, reviews, and promotions—especially if they choose to have children. Of course, they also continue to earn less.
Clearly, we have a long way to go in all of these areas. And, unfortunately, there are a whole lot of urgent concerns facing the country and the world right now, from the environment to terrorism, not to mention a dangerously unstable political climate. But every item on the above list has a profound effect on the lives of individuals and families, and, as a result, on our society as a whole. Please—let’s not let them be forgotten.
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