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Workplace Flexibility

Workplace Flexibility: Realigning 20th-Century Jobs for a 21st-Century Workforce

Kathleen Christensen
Barbara Schneider
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press,
Pages: 424
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  • Book Info
    Workplace Flexibility
    Book Description:

    Although today's family has changed, the workplace has not-and the resulting one-size-fits-all workplace has become profoundly mismatched to the needs of an increasingly diverse and varied workforce. As changes in the composition of the workforce exert new demands on employers, considerable attention is being paid to how workplaces can be structured more flexibly to achieve the goals of employers and employees.

    Workplace Flexibility brings together sixteen essays authored by leading experts in economics, demography, political science, law, sociology, anthropology, and management. Collectively, they make the case for workplace flexibility, as well as examine existing business practices and public policy regarding flexibility in the United States, Europe, Australia, and Japan. Workplace Flexibility underscores the need to realign the structure of work in time and place with the needs of the changing workforce.

    Considering the positive and negative consequences for employer and employee alike, the authors argue that, although there is not an easy solution to creating and implementing flexibility practices-in the United States or abroad-redesigning the workplace is essential if today's workers are effectively to meet the demands of life and work and if employers are successfully able to attract and retain top talent and improve performance.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5844-6
    Subjects: Management & Organizational Behavior

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
    Kathleen Christensen and Barbara Schneider
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. INTRODUCTION: Evidence of the Worker and Workplace Mismatch
    (pp. 1-14)
    Kathleen Christensen and Barbara Schneider

    The American way of life has undergone profound changes over the last thirty years. More changes are likely, given the current Great Recession that is likely to be deep and long. This book was written before the onset of this current economic crisis and its potential effects on working families and workplace flexibility are unknown, as we have yet to experience a crisis of this magnitude in contemporary times. This economic situation raises a new set of questions: With high unemployment, will those with jobs be working more, or less? Will more parents be at home taking care of children,...


    • 1 THE LONG REACH OF THE JOB: Employment and Time for Family Life
      (pp. 17-42)
      Suzanne M. Bianchi and Vanessa R. Wight

      There is considerable debate over the amount of time that Americans spend working. Some argue that paid work hours have increased (Schor 1991), while others find that the amount of time Americans devote to market work has actually declined (Robinson and Godbey 1999). For those in their prime working years, ages twenty-five to fifty-four, with a college degree or employed in professional and managerial occupations, work hours have increased (Coleman and Pencavel 1993a, 1993b; Rones, Ilg, and Gardner 1997). Indeed, long work hours are one gauge by which a firm measures work commitment among those employed in the most highly...

    • 2 MULTITASKING AMONG WORKING FAMILIES: A Strategy for Dealing with the Time Squeeze
      (pp. 43-56)
      Shira Offer and Barbara Schneider

      Multitasking, or doing more than one activity at a given moment, has become a way of life for most U.S. working families. Considering the complexity of contemporary everyday life, it often seems that there is no other way to get things done but to do many things at once. Among working parents, for whom time is a particularly scarce resource, multitasking has become a strategy for juggling the growing demands of work and family. Talking on the phone while driving, fixing dinner while assisting children with their homework, and preparing for a meeting with a client while scheduling a doctor...

    • 3 COMING TOGETHER AT DINNER: A Study of Working Families
      (pp. 57-70)
      Elinor Ochs, Merav Shohet, Belinda Campos and Margaret Beck

      Family mealtimes have received considerable attention in the popular media as a barometer of family well-being. Dinnertime, they report, is an endangered or defunct family ritual that has given way to the demands of parents’ work and children’s extracurricular activities (RMC Research Corporation 2005). In the United States, as in other societies, the family dinner is viewed as an icon of the family and an ideal toward which contemporary families should strive. Cultural expectations that the family should eat a healthy home-cooked meal together present a challenge to working parents, whose finite time and energies are too often expended on...


    • 4 CUSTOMIZING CAREERS BY OPTING OUT OR SHIFTING JOBS: Dual-Earners Seeking Life-Course “Fit”
      (pp. 73-94)
      Phyllis Moen and Qinlei Huang

      Two-career couples are nothing new in American society, but dual-earning has by no means been institutionalized within families or the workforce. Dual-earners reflect a new workforce demography, an increasing percentage of households in which all adults are in the workforce. Still, most working couples struggle under both government laws and regulations and private-sector policies and practices that adhere to the stereotypical (male) lockstep adult course. The expectations surrounding paid work and its rewards are constructed around the “career mystique” belief that a lifetime of full-time continuous employment is the only path to success and fulfillment (Moen and Roehling 2005). However,...

      (pp. 95-109)
      Sylvia Ann Hewlett

      Ilona Steffen-Cope had been working as a consultant for Booz Allen Hamilton in Germany when, after a short time there, she was transferred to New York. Two years later, she transferred to San Francisco. That was the easy part.

      After another two years, Steffen-Cope began commuting to San Francisco from Vancouver, an arrangement prompted by the demands of her partner’s career. A year after that, she took a one-month leave of absence to get married in Germany, and ten months later she gave birth to her first child and went on maternity leave. This, however, was not the end of...

    • 6 ELDERLY LABOR SUPPLY: Work or Play?
      (pp. 110-128)
      Steven J. Haider and David S. Loughran

      The aging of the U.S. population, concerns over the long-term solvency of Social Security and Medicare, and recent data have sparked much research on the labor supply of older individuals. The bulk of this research has focused on individuals approaching traditional retirement ages of fifty-five to sixty-four. However, much less research has considered the labor supply of individuals beyond this age, a population referred to here as the “elderly.”

      Perhaps the most fundamental questions about elderly labor supply address why the elderly work and do not work. For example, to what extent do the elderly work because of financial circumstances,...


      (pp. 131-156)
      Ellen Galinsky, Kelly Sakai, Sheila Eby, James T. Bond and Tyler Wigton

      In the 1970s, Columbia University scholars Sheila B. Kamerman and Alfred J. Kahn (1978) launched studies documenting family-responsive trends around the globe. They found that, in contrast to almost every other industrialized country, “the United States does not have an explicit national family policy” (428). This statement remains true today (Heymann 2006a). Not only do U.S. employers, rather than the government, provide health insurance, pensions, and other benefits for their own employees, they have largely assumed responsibility for helping their employees’ families manage work and family life (Kamerman and Kahn 1987; Kahn and Kamerman 1980, 2002). There has been some...

    • 8 WILL THE REAL FAMILY-FRIENDLY EMPLOYER PLEASE STAND UP: Who Permits Work Hour Reductions for Childcare?
      (pp. 157-177)
      Robert Hutchens and Patrick Nolen

      The problem of balancing work and family life is particularly onerous when an employee wants to work fewer hours to deal with a family crisis. This is probably easiest for an acute crisis for which a couple of days off are required. More complicated are long-term problems, such as a sick or injured child who requires several months of care. This chapter examines how employers react to an especially difficult family-work issue: an employee who wants to move from full-time to part-time in order to care for a young child.

      One reason to examine movements from full-time to part-time is...

      (pp. 178-195)
      Kathleen Christensen, Matthew Weinshenker and Blake Sisk

      When considering the relationship between the federal government and workplace flexibility, the typical approach is to focus on the government in its policymaking role, rather than on its role as employer. This is an oversight that needs to be rectified. Focusing only on its capacity to pass laws or issue regulations ignores another critical way in which the federal government influences the adoption and implementation of workplace flexibility in the United States, and that is through its role as employer.

      The federal government is the nation’s single largest employer (Congressional Budget Office [CBO] 2007). While the total civilian workforce in...

    • 10 THE ODD DISCONNECT: Our Family-Hostile Public Policy
      (pp. 196-220)
      Joan C. Williams

      Imagine two families, one in the United States and one in Sweden, both of which experience the birth of a child.¹ In the first family, a working couple in Sweden has a newborn son in January. Both parents stay home during the first two weeks of the child’s life, because, since the 1970s, fathers have been granted ten days of paid leave after childbirth (Crittenden 2001). After that, the mother continues her paid leave and the father returns to work at 80 percent of his former schedule, taking advantage of the government’s policy that both parents can return to work...


      (pp. 223-244)
      Janet C. Gornick

      Two facts vividly capture the situation of American employees compared to their counterparts in a number of other Western countries. The first fact is that American employees, on average, spend many more hours per year at their workplaces (see figure 11.1). In 2002, workers in the United States—men and women combined—averaged over 1,800 hours per year spent in paid work, compared to, for example, just over 1,700 in the United Kingdom, fewer than 1,600 in Belgium and Sweden, and fewer than 1,500 in France, Germany, and the Netherlands (Mishel, Bernstein, and Allegretto 2005).

      The second fact is that...

      (pp. 245-261)
      Suzan Lewis and Laura den Dulk

      It is widely acknowledged that parents need flexibility to manage work and family boundaries. However, the impact of flexible working arrangements on employees with family responsibilities depends on many layers of context. Nevertheless, much of the research on flexible work arrangements either focuses on organizational policies and support and relatively neglects wider societal and economic context (S. Lewis 1997; Swody and Powell 2007; Van Dyne, Kossek, and Lobel 2007), or focuses on social policies to support working parents and neglects the workplace context (e.g., den Dulk, Peper, and Van Doorne-Huiskes 2005; Gornick and Meyers 2003).

      This chapter will discuss some...

      (pp. 262-275)
      Robert Drago and Mark Wooden

      Many academics and practitioners are urging employers to provide workplace options that allow their employees to reduce the number of hours they are required to work. For example, Hewlett and Luce’s (2005) study of highly educated women concludes that businesses need to create reduced-hours positions for women, and particularly new mothers, if they are to retain their positions as valued employees. For academics, Drago and Williams (2000) promote the notion of a half-time tenure track to permit academics to downshift their academic responsibilities when family demands are high, and return to full-time schedules when family demands lessen. For older workers,...

    • 14 RENEWED ENERGY FOR CHANGE: Government Policies Supporting Workplace Flexibility in Australia
      (pp. 276-302)
      Juliet Bourke

      Workplace flexibility is receiving a great deal of attention in Australia, particularly from Labor federal government elected in late 2007, but also from members of the previous conservative federal government, business representatives, and nongovernmental organizations. At first glance, such attention may seem positive, but this assumes that the term “workplace flexibility” has a uniform meaning for each of those stakeholder groups, and that the balance between employer and employee rights is evenly weighted. Although the previous conservative government espoused a commitment to work and family, it was perceived by some commentators (Group of 151 Australian Industrial Relations, Labour Market and...

      (pp. 303-316)
      Machiko Osawa

      Japan is at a crossroads. The post–World War II economic model, known as “Japan, Inc.,” has been largely discredited, and is no longer seen as viable in the twenty-first century without substantial modification. Even as the underpinnings of Japan, Inc. are gradually abandoned, there is no consensus on cobbling together a new paradigm. For example, Japan’s employment system is in transition. In the mid-1980s, the proportion of nonregular employment began to increase, accelerating during the 1990s (Houseman and Osawa 2003), but the movement toward such arrangements remains controversial. Firms have increasingly resorted to more flexible working arrangements in order...

      (pp. 317-336)
      Sumiko Iwao

      When the Japanese refer to workplace flexibility, they can choose between many different expressions. The terms “workplace flexibility” and “flexible working,” which are considered subsets of the broader topic of “work-family compatibility,” are occasionally used by Japanese policymakers, but the public is less familiar with them. “Workplace flexibility” primarily refers to the practice of providing leave time for childcare and eldercare and implies that it is the employee who primarily benefits (to date, this is where policymakers have placed more importance); “flexible working” is used to indicate institutional adjustments to work schedules and is considered more beneficial to the employer....

  10. CONCLUSIONS: Solving the Workplace/Workforce Mismatch
    (pp. 337-350)
    Kathleen Christensen and Barbara Schneider

    Most U.S. workers are employed in rigidly structured work environments where they have to make difficult and, oftentimes, undesirable choices between meeting the demands of work and the needs of their families. Being expected to work long hours, with minimal control over when and where to work and few opportunities for any type of leave from work, results in a situation in which workers often, and unwillingly, privilege work over family. This situation is one that applies to all types of workers, including low-income, hourly workers and high-income, salaried professionals, as well as all family types, most notably single working...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 351-364)
  12. References
    (pp. 365-392)
  13. Contributors
    (pp. 393-398)
  14. Index
    (pp. 399-408)