My husband is a social studies teacher. That means that on the nights we don't go straight to bed after getting four kids to sleep, we might sit down and watch some provocative TV. You know, a good documentary on PBS about something historic or educational. And while this might not sound terribly fun, we always end up having good conversation.
The other night as we watched a commemorative of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights March, I felt myself getting worked up as I often do when I'm reminded about some of the realities of history. The program was a celebration of the march and the leaders who forged important relationships that ultimately led to the signing of the Civil Rights Bill of 1964. Good stuff right? It WAS, but I couldn't help but feel a little disturbed by the whole thing.
Me: "Isn't it crazy we actually had to create A LAW to recognize that people are EQUAL?"
Husband: "Yes, but you have to realize that sometimes policy is what it takes to get people to move in the direction of change. Not everyone can get there without formalizing it."
Me: "Okay, but human beings as equals isn't a tough concept to grasp. I don't understand how people can be so limited in their thinking."
Husband: "It's called history, Teresa. There are lots of things that shape why people think and believe the way they do. You should know. Don't you deal with that all the time with the leaders you train around the changing workplace?"
Me: "You're right. You are so smart. I am lucky to be married to someone with such profound insights." (Oh, wait... that's what he wished I had said.)
Starting the Shift
So what does this have to do with National Work and Family Month? Supporting working families for the betterment of society isn't a hard concept to grasp, yet many people are limited in their thinking. They see it as an impediment to business success. Something that they "should" do but would prefer not to because it is perceived as inconvenient and costly. Or, for some, resistance isn't the issue -- it just isn't even on their radar to be more intentional about supporting the working families that work for and with them.
As my husband said, sometimes it takes formalizing something to get people to move in a certain direction. Hence, National Work and Family Month: A formal recognition to help business leaders understand the impact of supporting working families. A push toward more workplace flexibility in how, when and where people work. A focus on reducing the stress and overwork so prevalent today and on increasing the health and well-being of employees and their families. Ultimately, a movement toward behaviors that support people both making a living and having a life.
If we look at things through a history teacher's eyes, there are a lot of reasons that so many people today feel like "having it all" isn't possible. And there are many reasons that leaders in all kinds of organizations resist giving people the support and flexibility they need to live healthy, meaningful lives. And while it is important to know where we came from in order to know where we are going, what's most important is that we have a dream about the future that we can collectively work toward.
A Vision for the Future
I don't mean to get all Martin Luther King on you, but I have always had a dream. I have always dreamed that one day people are trusted to work where, when and how it makes sense for them. I dream that leaders manage by results, not face time. That employees don't have to make a choice between having a career and having a life. That flexibility isn't a policy, but rather just the way things are done in organizations across the country. That employees and their families don't have to sacrifice their health because of all of the time they spend working. That people everywhere are supported to invest time in the things that are important to them. That working moms and dads everywhere don't have to "opt out" or "opt back in" because careers are flexible and tailored to life stage needs.
I dream that employees are treated with respect and encouraged to be "whole people" with lives beyond the workplace. And that our society will be better off because of all of it.
I will admit that in my first internship they nicknamed me "Ideals 'R Us." I dream big. I expect a lot. And I am passionate about inspiring others to dream big too. So were those who led the Civil Rights Movement. And while I recognize that the work-life movement is much different than Civil Rights, there are some parallels and lessons to be applied.
National Work and Family Month is a great impetus for our efforts toward a more humane work experience. How can you support it?
· Identify leaders to inspire and role model the way.
· Encourage everyone at every level to join in the movement.
· Communicate and open up dialogue about the importance of work-life success.
· Support people with programs designed to ease some of the chaos that comes with our busy working lives.
My hope is that one day one of my children will be sitting on the couch watching PBS with their partner and they will say, "Isn't it crazy that they used to have to have policies and months to encourage workplace flexibility?!?"