A revolution is another step closer to completion out in Silicon Valley. Its foot soldiers are provided by a home cleaning service, and its weapons include dinner delivery.
"The employee perk is moving from the office to the home," Matt Richtel wrote on the front page of the New York Times this weekend.
It is about time.
The life/work conversation which began 30 years ago -- on the heels of women entering the workplace with fire-hose force -- has long been limited by two things. First, while employees might have thought this discussion was about simplifying their lives, employers saw it mostly as making it easier to do more work. More flexible hours? That means you can work round the clock. Virtual offices? Ah, then you can work from anywhere. On-site child care? Even that translates into less reason to leave the office, no?
Second, any talk of life and work was assumed to be directed at women. This used to make sense, because women sparked the movement. They were the ones who stood up and said the old way, which assumes every worker has a helpmeet at home, needs an overhaul. But it wasn't just work that had to change, it was home -- and those changes had to be embraced not only by women, but by everyone.
Because the immutable fact is that women will not be equal at work until they are equal at home. And women simply can not be equal at home until the burden of what was once their full-time job is not only shared, but lightened. Especially in a global marketplace, where work long ago outgrew the hours between 9 and 5, and the lines between work and life are blurred at best, half of too much is still too much. To their astonishment, today's egalitarian couples are discovering that even those who manage to divide the domestic tasks down the middle aren't simplifying life as often as they are making both partners feel overwhelmed -- and giving them for to snipe at each other about in the process.
"Being able to take some things off the table for both of us would save my marriage," one friend told me after reading the Times article this weekend. And a little less stress on her marriage, in turn, would do far more than would massages at work, or take your pets to the office, toward making her a more focused employee.
Which is where the perks Richtel lists come in.
It is not surprising that of the moments Richtel credits as leading bosses to embrace this new direction, so many included conversations with women. At the software company Evernote, he writes, it was the CEO's wife (also a company employee) who suggested bi-weekly housecleaning for everyone on staff when her husband asked her what would most improve workers' lives. At Stanford School of Medicine, it was when a kidney specialist described to a workplace consulting firm how she bought a minivan during her maternity leave and drove carpool for every neighbor and friend she could find so that they would "owe" her when she had to ask for the same in return when she went back to work. This led to a pilot program providing doctors with in-home housecleaning and dinner delivery.
But while women may have begun this thinking, it has long been clear that real change will only come when the conversation "tips" to include men and home. When it is only a "women's issue," or worse yet, a "mommy issue," it marginalizes rather than helps women. It does little good to make work flexible, if home remains rigid enough to break.
Free housecleaning may not solve all of everyone's problems. But it is a well-aimed start.