10/29/2012 04:11 pm ET Updated Dec 29, 2012

Work Life Balance... for Congress Too

On October 24th the Congressional Management Foundation and Society for Human Resource Management recognized National Work and Family Month by releasing a report focused on and titled Life in Congress: Aligning Work and Life in the US House and Senate. You can see this report on our webpage at

I was privileged to be a respondent to the Q&A in this report sharing my views on the challenges congressional office staff and leadership face in recruiting and retaining an experienced and dynamic workforce. The key findings in this report are not a surprise to me. Working for Congress is a great job. It is meaningful work and despite the long hours and unpredictable workload most staffers are very committed to their job. They recognize the importance of the workplace culture-that time is a vital commodity in their field and the high expectations for the quality of work they produce. Burnout is more frequent in certain positions but all are seeking to align their work and personal lives and for some it just doesn't work in a Congressional position. The report will show you some comparisons between private sector jobs and the demands of public sector jobs as both are struggling to manage the demands of work, family and life responsibilities.

This report has significant meaning to me because nearly 20 years ago in 1993 my husband began his term as a US Senator from Idaho and we moved our two teenagers, two dogs, and household goods to Washington, DC to be a family together while he served in Congress. It was the time of the "Family Friendly Congress" when efforts were made to acknowledge and address the pull and time away from family that is inherent in the expectations of elected officials and of those employed to support their work. Technology was changing the way we communicated and information moved between Washington and state offices at warp speed.

At the time I was a part of a group called the Families and Work Consortium in Boise, Idaho. We were looking at the challenges faced by working parents in the areas of quality childcare, time-off for family emergencies and family-friendly work environments in businesses in Idaho. At about the same time the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation began its intense study of work and family life in Sloan Centers around the country. We have come a long way with their high quality research and discussions taking place from small board rooms in Boise, Idaho to national forums in Washington, DC and across the country making a significant impact in the understanding and acceptance of workplace flexibility as how, when and where work is done and how careers are organized that work for both the employer and employee. We have made progress. We know now for an effective workplace, flexibility is a business imperative.