October is National Work & Family Month. It is a time to remember the challenges millions of Americans face in balancing their work and family lives and to issue a call to action to do something about it.
Work-life balance is a significant issue for most Americans. Polls show that more than 80% of Americans experience conflicts between their work and family lives. The impact on families is significant. Today's parents multitask to the point that children cite "uninterrupted time with parents" as their primary need. Older workers want and, in this economy, need to keep working, but want to do so in a different way than
in the past.
Women have traditionally faced work and family balance challenges. They entered the workforce in new numbers a generation ago and felt the challenge of conflict. However, there is a shift now occurring in gender dynamics as it relates to work and family. With men losing three-quarters of the jobs in this recession, women are now driving the American economy. America can't afford to lose any more workers (women or men) due to care giving conflicts.
Moreover, far from being just a "woman's issue," work and family issues are now "men's" issues. According to the Families and Work Institute, more men (59%) than women (45%) in dual-income households report serious work and family conflicts. More men than women struggle with work family balance. That is a significant shift and one that I'm not sure most Americans would guess.
Men want to succeed in being good parents and to succeed at work in providing for their families. American policymakers want fathers to be involved in the lives of their children. One of the key priorities of President Obama's Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships is his fatherhood initiative. The goal is to encourage responsible fatherhood and this summer the President appeared at several events to make the point. Yet in order for fathers to have the time and energy to be involved fathers they need to be able to be there to pick up children from school, attend events and teacher conferences, help with homework, meet general care giving responsibilities and listen to their children, all while holding down jobs to provide for their families. In short, they need workplace flexibility.
Many of these tasks were traditionally done by women. However, with more women working, more men under employed and more men experiencing work family conflict, there is a link between "responsible fatherhood" and work family balance.
President Obama should link the work of his White House Middle Class Task Force and First Lady's Office on work family balance with his Faith Based Office's focus on Fatherhood to create an initiative that expands the flexibility of American workplaces for the benefits of fathers and all Americans.
Work family conflicts in America are real and growing. There is a mismatch between the needs of families and the structure of work. Fortunately, there is a growing consensus in Washington that workplace flexibility of some kind is needed and that creative public policy is part of the solution. Flexible work arrangements, telework, job sharing and extended time off are just some of the creative policies that should be considered. That President has an opportunity to make a mark in an emerging issue of concern for American families. He should seize the opportunity.