National Disability Employment Awareness Month

Earlier this month, the President proclaimed October 2012 National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). The observance is intended to raise awareness about disability employment issues and to celebrate the contributions of our country’s workers with disabilities. This year’s theme is “A Strong Workforce is an Inclusive Workforce: What Can YOU Do?”

In conjunction with NDEAM, he U.S. Department of Labor has launched an online Workplace Flexibility Toolkit to “provide employees, job seekers, employers, policymakers and researchers with information, resources and a unique approach to workplace flexibility.”

According to the U.S. DOL, the toolkit “points visitors to case studies, fact and tip sheets, issue briefs, reports, articles, websites with additional information, other related toolkits and a list of frequently asked questions. It is searchable by type of resource, target audience and types of workplace flexibility, including place, time and task.”

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Utah’s Four-Day Workweek Not All It’s Cracked Up to Be

Utah was the first (and only) state in the U.S. to move to a mandatory four-day workweek.  Under the system, which was implemented by former Gov. Jon Huntsman in 2008, almost all state employees were converted to a schedule of four, 10-hour days per week.  As readers of this blog may recall, I have not been the biggest proponent of the four-day workweek.  See The Cons of a 4-Day Workweek.  

But not everyone agreed.  In fact, for a while, the compressed-week schedule was very, very popular and local governments around the country began to initiate pilot groups to test it.  These efforts were supported by announcements that the Utah program was generating lots of savings for the State and lauded as an official “success.” 

Well, as it turns out, Utah may have been wearing rose-colored glasses when it made the “success” determination, according to a recent audit. The State admitted that it had not seen the reduced energy costs that it had hoped for (realizing only about $500,000 in savings in the first year, as compared to the expected $3 million).  But the audit says it goes a bit deeper, finding that the State overestimated how much money it saved in saved overtime and other costs.  In fairness to the Utah program, though, employee surveys do indicate that employees prefer the four-day workweek, so there must be some supporters. 

Katie Keuhner-Herbert’s article on Human Resource Executive about the audit and the four-day workweek program in Utah. See Reassessing Four-Day WorkweeksThe article points out some of the flaws in the four-day workweek and pinpoints some sticking points for employers and employees alike.  (For purposes of full disclosure, I’m quoted in the article–but don’t let that deter you.)

See also

  • Positive Benefits of a Four-Day Work Week
  • 5 Steps Toward a More Flexible Workplace
  • Should a Four-Day Work Week Be Mandatory*
  • It’s Saturday Today in Utah: 4 Day Work Week
  • Alternatives to the Four Day Work Week
  • Popularity of the 4-day Week Continues to Grow
  • Will Four-Day School Week Push the Four-Day Work Week Trend?
  • Utah’s Mandatory 4-Day Work Week Will Save the World. Sort of.
  • White House Focuses on Workplace Flexibility

    Workplace flexibility has been a hot topic, a highlight of which was President Obama’s White House Forum on Workplace Flexibility, televised earlier this week. The forum was designed as an opportunity for labor leaders, CEOs, small business owners, and policy experts to share their ideas and strategies for making the workplace more flexible for workers and their families. During the conference, the President compared flexible work schedules to the early stages of email: some companies have it, some don’t, but eventually, all companies will. Get ready employers – if you haven’t gotten aboard yet, the train may run you over!

    Juggle work and home workplace flexibility

    With healthcare out of the way, the administration is freed up to focus on other priorities. During the campaign, then-candidate Obama included work-life issues as an important part of his agenda, committing to expand FMLA, to prevent caregiver discrimination, and to offer incentives to employers to expand flexible work arrangements.  The forum indicates  that work-life issues remain a focus of this administration. Although the Obamas now have a personal chef, chauffeurs, and other assistance to make their “balance” a little easier, I am sure that Michelle’s experience managing a demanding career and raising her two girls has helped to ensure this issue remains on the President’s radar screen.

    The discussion has taken different varied focuses over the years, but the bottom line is this: for many reasons, in order to retain employees in the modern workforce, employers have to reinvent the old model of an ideal worker. Flexible work schedules are over and over again focused on as the reasonable way to accommodate the needs of both employer and employee. The impetus for employers to engage in this discussion has  evolved a bit over the years.

    First, employers were interested in the topic primarily due to the economics of investment in skilled workforce (particularly professional women), who often left the job because unable to balance their work and family responsibilities. Then Gen Y came along, with both males and females placing a greater value on “down” time, whether with family or pursuing other activities. Gen Y consistently ranks workplace flexibility among the most desirable employment benefits. With the economic downturn, the discussion turned to how flexible schedules could immediately help the bottom line (4-day workweeks, voluntary reduction in hours for reduction in pay, etc.).

    Law and politics have not shied away from the discussion: both Republican and Democratic administrations have made important advancements to the cause of work-life balance. In 2007, the EEOC under the Bush administration issued it Enforcement Guidance: Unlawful Disparate Treatment of Workers with Caregiver Responsibilities. In 2009, Obama’s administration issued  Employer Best Practices for Workers with Caregiver Responsibilities, which focused primarily on flexible work arrangements. The White House Forum has work-life balance advocates everywhere eager to see what will come next!

     

    See these related posts for more about work-life balance:

    Resources for Work-Life Balance and Flexible Work Arrangements

    Maybe It’s Not All Gloom and Doom for Work-Life Balance

    Looking a Flexible-Schedule Gift Horse in the Mouth

    Caregiver Discrimination: The “Sandwiched Generation”

    5 Steps Toward a More Flexible Workplace

    Caregiver Discrimination: The “Sandwiched Generation”

    EEOC issued Employer Best Practices for Workers With Caregiving Responsibilities, a technical-assistance guide, last week.  Caregiver or Family-Responsibilities Discrimination, according to the EEOC, occurs when an employer makes an adverse employment decision based on the employee’s care-giving responsibilities.  Because this type of discrimination is a derivative of gender discrimination, the basic premises begins with parents of young children.  But it extends in the opposite direction, as well, to employers whose own parents are the ones in need of caregiving.  This second category is the less commonly recognized of the two forms of discrimination.  But there is a third type, as well.  A  dual-income household where both caregivers are working and care not only for children, but also for aging parents, is known as a “sandwiched” home.  The sandwiched generation are those who are at a very fragile point, having responsibility for multiple generations.Big kid and little kid with PDAs

    As many as 9-13% of American households can be characterized as a sandwiched household.  The typical couple includes a 44-year-old man and a 42 year-old-woman, who have been married for just less than 20 years. Both spouses work full time.  There are two children in the home and two aging parents who require assistance in performing daily tasks of living, such as transportation, shopping, making care-related decisions, housekeeping, and managing money.  

    Until the economy enjoys a significant improvement, it is easy to imagine that the number of sandwiched households will continue to grow.  Aging parents who, in good financial times, may have been able to afford the expense of assisted living, may see a more reasonable option as living with an adult child.  Of course, as we continue to outlive previous generations, the number of aging parents will continue to grow. 

    Employers can play a key role in the lives of employees facing these challenges at home.  Of course, alternative work schedules can be used to attract and retain the best employees of all ages and in all stages of life.  To a group facing extraordinary pressures at home, an alternative work schedule may separate a good employer from a great one. Even aside from these more formal workplace initiatives, though, employers can take important steps to improve the work-family culture in the workplace.  Managers who are sensitive to employees’ personal needs, for example, can be a great source of comfort to an otherwise over-burdened employee.  Guilt is not an emotional area in which they come up short and it’s the last thing they need to feel at work when the pressures of home require them to leave early or to take a longer lunch.

    For more on Family Responsibilities Discrimination (FRD), see:

    Family Responsibility Discrimination. Download of a Short and Sweet Summary of the FRD Now Available

    Job Sharing as an Alternative Work Option

    Flexible work schedules come in every shape and size. Job sharing is just one type of work arrangement that offers employees flexibility and, in turn, the opportunity for an approved work-life balance. But what exactly is job sharing?  It’s just what sounds like–employees share job duties as a way to reduce each person’s job duties. Essentially, job sharing is a type of part-time work. It involves two or more workers who are responsible for the duties and tasks of one full-time position.

    Some job shares are set up so that each employee handles specific duties.  Other job shares have a less formal division of duties. In either set up, the employees coordinate their schedules so that the regular “shift” is always covered.  When one job sharer is not working, the other is.  There is usually some overlap in scheduling to enable the sharers to communicate.  The division of time can be split evenly but any assignment can be successful.

    The most basic requirement for potential job sharers is a well-honed sense of teamwork.  An employee who tends to be controlling of his or her duties may have difficulty in letting go of that control to another employee.  Communication skills also are critical.  The job sharers must be able not only to work well together, but also to be able to communicate when things are going well and when things are going not so well. 

    Making It Work When You Work From Home

    Telecommuting has been on the rise for several years. Worsening economic conditions have increased the telecommuting trend more than ever, as employers begin to take notice of its potential cost savings and reduced overhead.   Many employees, though, worry that they lack the discipline required to telecommute effectively.  Working from home does require discipline. It requires the employee to be aware of potential distractions that are not issues in the traditional workplace.  people father and son at dad's workplace

    But there are strategies to make working from home work for you.  If your employer has asked you to consider telecommuting or if you recently started working from home, here are a few tips to help you succeed at telecommuting:

    1.  Stick to a schedule

    By scheduling break and meal times, you can prevent taking too many breaks during working time.  If you have a set schedule for lunch, you will be less inclined to take multiple trips to the fridge to “grab a snack.”  And when it’s time for a break, really take it.  This time to clear your head is critical to continued clarity during working hours.

    2.  Dress for success

    Don’t work in your pajamas.  Get dressed for work as you would if you actually had to leave the house to go to work. We are so susceptible to visual clues that we’d be kidding ourselves to pretend that we don’t act the way we look.  So dress the part–it will help you remember that you’re not on a vacation day but, instead, need to get down to business.

    3.  Set the stage

    A similar strategy is to create an office environment that is dedicated just to work.  And when work is done, leave the “office” and join the rest of the family in the rest of the house.  If you are able to have a separate room where you will work during the day, leave the room and close the door at quitting time and don’t return until the next day.  The purpose of telecommuting is not to meld your working and non-working times into a single, undistinguishable 24-hour cycle. Just because your office and your home share an address does not mean that you’re on call at all times. 

    DuPont Puts Flexible Downsizing to Work With Voluntary Unpaid Leave

    Delaware’s largest industrial employer is asking its salaried workers to take at least two weeks’ unpaid leave.  75 of the company’s senior leaders announced that they will take three weeks off without pay in response to the current market conditions.  There are a number of reasons to consider initiating this type of voluntary program instead of involuntary layoffs.  According to the article reported by the Wilmington News Journal:Dupont

    Employers appear to be favoring voluntary programs, according to a February survey by Watson Wyatt consulting firm. Eleven percent of the 245 U.S.-based companies surveyed have instituted mandatory furloughs, while another 6 percent expect to launch a program in the next 12 months.  By comparison, 10 percent already have had voluntary furloughs and another 9 percent are expected to ask for voluntary furloughs within the next 12 months, the survey said.

    A DuPont representative cited the current preference for flexible work schedules as one reason for its decision to initiate the voluntary program.  Another reason was that it made compliance with foreign laws easier than if an involuntary layoff program had been utilized. 

    For those of us on the East Coast, where summer is king, now may be an ideal time to consider offering a flexible-downsizing initiative.  If your organization is trying to cut labor costs without having to layoff its valued employees, you may want to think about unpaid leave, voluntary furloughs, and reduced-schedule work week.  If your employees traditionally flock to the beach on Friday afternoons, they may jump at the chance to work a four-day week for 4/5 of their normal pay.  Even a temporary program for the summer months may be enough to enable your organization to stave off unwanted involuntary reductions.

    I’ll be conducting an audio conference on layoff alternatives in June for M. Lee Smith Publishers.  Be sure to check out the HR Hero website for lots of resources on employment-law and human-resource topics, including information about voluntary and mandatory furloughs.  Delaware employers can learn more about the legal considerations involved in layoffs at our annual Employment Law Seminar on April 29.  (Learn more about the employment-law seminar here and register for the seminar here).