Work-Life Policies for the Twenty-First Century Economy

Tuesday, June 10, 2008 | Margy's Blog & Updates

In a new report released this week, The Mobility Agenda finds that the U.S. economy, workplace, workforce, and labor market have changed radically in the last 50 years, yet public and private policies have not kept up with these changes.

In the report, the authors review the evidence regarding work-life conflicts, the economic case for policy initiatives, and effectiveness of the policy options. 

“No single policy will meet all needs, which is why we recommend a menu of policy solutions to address changes in workforce, living arrangements, and society,” explains Margy Waller, Executive Director of The Mobility Agenda. The authors, Heather Boushey, Layla Moughari, Sarah Sattelmeyer, and Margy Waller present a clear explanation of the policy options and make specific recommendations for decision-makers.

For more information and to see the full report and abstract, please visit www.mobilityagenda.org/worklife

Memo to Congress: The Labor Market has Changed! Paid Leave is a Necessity

Friday, April 18, 2008 | Margy's Blog & Updates

Here’s an update from The Mobility Agenda’s Senior Research Associate Sarah Sattelmeyer and Executive Director Margy Waller, coauthors of a forthcoming report on work-life policies for the United States

A work-life policy expansion for federal employees is running into some trouble as it moves through Congress, according to today’s Washington Post:

Yesterday, Rep. Kenny Marchant (Tex.), the ranking Republican on the federal workforce subcommittee, and Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said that they were concerned about the cost of providing paid parental leave and whether this was the time to grant a new benefit to federal employees.

Federal employees should not receive increased benefits during an economic slowdown, when companies are cutting back, Issa said. By considering paid parental leave for them, “we are making a statement that we are out of touch,” he said.

Is Representative Issa overlooking some important changes in our economy and labor market:

In her statement yesterday, Maloney thanked Waxman and the subcommittee chairman, Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.), for moving the bill toward a full committee vote and a floor vote.

The American workplace, she said, has not kept pace with the changing needs of families, especially those that “no longer have a stay-at-home parent to provide care for a new child.”

Outdated family-leave policies, she said, “are a talent drain on the government — they’re an incentive for skilled people to look elsewhere for work at the very time when our government needs them most.”

The Mobility Agenda’s forthcoming report on work-life policy proposals to strengthen the economy and our labor market addresses these issues. Watch for it soon!
 

The 2008 New Jersey Paid Family Leave Bill: Bringing Employers and Employees…Together?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008 | Margy's Blog & Updates

Here’s an update from The Mobility Agenda’s Senior Research Associate, Sarah Sattelmeyer.

Yesterday, the New Jersey Senate approved a (long time in the works!) paid family leave bill, which the Assembly passed in March. Governor Corzine has committed to signing this bill, which will make New Jersey the third state to adopt paid family leave.

For those of you who are not work-life policy junkies like myself, family and medical leave (which differs from paid sick days) can guarantee workers time away from work to recover from a personal health condition, for the birth or adoption of a child, to care for an elderly family member, and/or to incorporate additional longer-term family care needs.

The 1993 federal Family and Medical Leave Act, administered by the US Department of Labor, provides unpaid family and medical leave for some U.S. workers. On the other hand, State Temporary Disability Insurance programs are administered on a state level and offer paid family and medical leave for workers. Employer and employee generally jointly fund these programs.

Many states are working (California has been successful!) to extend their Temporary Disability Insurance programs or develop new programs to cover a wide array of family and medical needs, including adoption. According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, New Jersey’s new law falls into this category in that it will expand the state’s temporary disability insurance program to give workers up to six weeks of family leave benefits to care for a sick family member or a newborn or newly adopted child. It provides temporary disability insurance benefits at two-thirds of wage replacement up to a maximum of $524 per week in 2008, and is financed by a small employee payroll deduction.

It’s about time, right? But despite the passage of this bill through both houses of the New Jersey legislature, significant conflict about the idea of work-life policies still exists. According to an Associated Press reporter and Newsday.com, Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth) and other opponents of the bill fear that “[t]his [bill will] impose a tax on every employer in our state and continue…to lay the groundwork for the exodus of citizens and employers.”

This comment by Senator Beck should have provided the perfect opportunity for Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney, a leading proponent of the bill, to use language that bridged the business-worker gap. But instead, he followed in the divisive footsteps of Senator Beck by commenting that “[t]his bill…signif[ies] a new day for the state’s work force, in that, the needs of families will be put before the needs of business owners.”

Senator Sweeney, while meaning well and clearly a strong champion of workers who is on the right side of this issue, lost his chance to promote the pro-business benefits of work-life policies when he verbally created a divide between “families” and “business owners”—between us and them.

In many situations, employers have used public and private policy to balance competing work-life priorities. In a recent study conducted by WFD Consulting and Corporate Voices for Working Families, offering work-life policies in the workplace improves employee retention, creates more positive human capital outcomes, and establishes a more productive workforce, all of which can lead to stronger financial performance, especially for retail companies whose employees often have a direct relationship with customers. In fact, researchers reporting on a 2002 Watson Wyatt study found that “companies that provide more flexible work arrangements” could see as much as a 3.5 percent rise in shareholder value.

Work-life policies also lead to better mental health and less stress, which contribute to a reduction in employee health care costs. According to the CDC, stress at work can increase employees’ unscheduled absences, and health care expenditures (something about which we are all concerned!) are nearly 50 percent greater for U.S. workers who report high levels of stress.

We still need research to explore the narrative lens that works best when discussing work-life policy with a pro-business contingent. But even without the research, stakeholders should use common sense in their public remarks about work-life policy. New Jersey legislators just passed a bill that will help thousands of workers, but Senator Sweeney’s comments did not even open the door for a productive dialogue with the business community about legislation that affects all of us.

The facts are on his side. The battle is won, but not the war. The Senator Sweeneys of the world need to see their legislation through in a manner that will help other leaders win similar battles.

The Mobility Agenda will soon release Work-Life Policies for the Twenty-First-Century Economy, a report that explains the need for better work-life policy and provides recommendations for stakeholders.