I've been thinking a lot about Kathleen Christensen's guest post in this space last week on workplace flexibility. Christensen founded and directs the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation's program on workplace, work force and working families, which plays a vital role in advancing the national discussion of work-family issues by funding interdisciplinary research on issues faced by working families. (The Sloan Work and Family Research Network website, by the way, is a great resource for information on all sorts of issues. Including topics for Work Wednesday blog posts!)
In case you missed it, Christensen's post focused on the workplace flexiblity gap -- the disconnect between the recognized benefits of flexibile work models and policies for employers and employees, and many employees' actual experience with -- and access to -- flexible work. (There's more interesting stuff about the gap in another here.)
Christensen also asked our readers to share their experiences and ideas for closing the workplace flexibility gap. A number of working moms responded with thoughtful personal posts and policy prescriptions.
I didn't comment. If I did, I'd probably would have mentioned the importance of part-time (or less than full-time) work, the availability of alternative/compressed work schedules, and the ability to telework occasionally -- all non-controversial ideas that more and more have become part of my employer's work enivornment. (I work for a federal government agency.) Especially with the passage of the new federal federal telework law late last year.
Enough! Back to Christensen's closing question: "What do we have to do to close the workplace flexibility gap?"
Well, I'm not sure that's the right question.
Fan as I am of workplace flexiblity, the concept nonetheless seems constrained. I know it's been difficult to come this far in workplace flexibility, and there's a long way to go especially for low income workers, but it seems like we need a more flexible question.
Like "What do we have to do to create more flexibility for working families overall?"
Apart from our workplaces, what other places could become more flexible? I can think of several candidates -- doctors' offices, appliance delivery companies, and home repair firms come to mind -- that might consider a dose of flexiblity. I know that many doctors, nurses, receptionists,technicians, deliverers, and repairmen (they are usually men) have family obligations, too, but might it not make sense for them to offer their services outside the usual 9-5 band at least on an occasional basis? And allow them some flexibility in return for working in the evening or on weekends?
And what about schools? The U.S., which is not faring too well on standard measures of educational achievement in developed countries, persists in having a relatively short school year. We also have fairly truncated school days that, as President Obama once noted, might have made sense "when America was a nation of farmers who needed their children at home plowing the land at the end of each day . . . but today, it puts us at a competitive disadvantage." I'm not advocating that schools become all-day care centers, but a little flexibility in scheduling the school day - and year - might help many parents juggle - and become more inolved in their kids' schools.
Anyway, CurrentMom readers, I'm curious about your thoughts. What kinds of flexible arrangements - at work and outside work - would you like to have?