Michelle Obama and Work-Life Issues

Well, I made it back to Ohio after several days inside the beltway. And I had a great run this morning at 5 a.m., even with the dead left foot dragging behind me. Also, I’m sneezing a little, but no direct evidence of the swine flu as yet as Dr. Joe Biden suggested last week when opining on airplane travel. And I had the opportunity to meet (OK, briefly) Michelle Obama. Here’s the story.

DSC_2159As many already know, I’m working these days with a nonprofit public policy organization in D.C., Corporate Voices for Working Families. Last week we held our annual meeting — and attracted Michelle Obama as the keynote speaker. The First Lady talked to the gathering of primarily business managers about a host of issues about how working families — men, women, single parents and so on — have to struggle these days to balance responsibilities at home and on the job.

She is an advocate for working families — and most likely work-life are the issues that she will tackle most directly and personally during the next few years. Mrs. Obama is also starting to advance the idea of federally mandated paid sick days — and in fairness to readers of this blog — that’s a controversial topic, especially for small businesses and particularly in states like Ohio that have been hit hard by the recession. I’ll write more about that in coming posts.

I’ll also write more about the experience of working with the national news media on this story. Her talk and the Corporate Voices’ meeting gained significant national coverage in The New York Times, The Washington Post and so on and it even made the national Associated Press distribution.

Michelle Obama came to the meeting in part to learn more about the results of a comprehensive Corporate Voices for Working Families’ research project and report on workplace flexibility programs for hourly workers. Here are more details on the report as well as Michelle Obama’s talk from a post I wrote for the Corporate Voices for Working Families blog.

Corporate Voices: Workplace Flexibility Benefits Hourly Workers/Businesses

When Michelle Obama attended the Corporate Voices for Working Families Annual Meeting May 7, she talked about the importance of work-life programs to working families and to the competitiveness of American business.

The First Lady said:

Things are very different for working families than when many of us were growing up.  I talked about this a lot on the campaign trail.  When I look back on my childhood and the life that my parents provided, working-class folks with not a lot of money, my father was a blue-collar city worker who worked a shift job.  But because he earned enough as a shift worker without a college degree, he could still support a family of four on that salary.  And because he could, with that salary, support us — we rented a home, we didn’t live lavishly — my mother was able to stay at home.  She could afford to make the choice not to go to work while we were growing up.  That was how families balanced back then.
But things are very different today.  One income really doesn’t always cut it anymore.  And that’s in my lifetime.  In most families, both parents have to work, and even if people want to make the choice to stay home.  And again, there is no subjective analysis or — of what is better.  But people can’t make the choice.  It’s even harder for single parents, and there are millions of them all across this country who are trying to build a life for themselves and their children, and they find in an economy that’s tough that they’re not just holding down one but they need a couple of jobs just to make ends meet.

Things are very different for working families than when many of us were growing up.  I talked about this a lot on the campaign trail.  When I look back on my childhood and the life that my parents provided, working-class folks with not a lot of money, my father was a blue-collar city worker who worked a shift job.  But because he earned enough as a shift worker without a college degree, he could still support a family of four on that salary.  And because he could, with that salary, support us — we rented a home, we didn’t live lavishly — my mother was able to stay at home.  She could afford to make the choice not to go to work while we were growing up.  That was how families balanced back then.

But things are very different today.  One income really doesn’t always cut it anymore.  And that’s in my lifetime.  In most families, both parents have to work, and even if people want to make the choice to stay home.  And again, there is no subjective analysis or — of what is better.  But people can’t make the choice.  It’s even harder for single parents, and there are millions of them all across this country who are trying to build a life for themselves and their children, and they find in an economy that’s tough that they’re not just holding down one but they need a couple of jobs just to make ends meet.

In conjunction with Mrs. Obama’s talk, Corporate Voices released a comprehensive study that looks at workplace flexibility options and programs involving hourly employees, Innovative Workplace Flexibility Options for Hourly Workers.

The study finds that workplace flexibility initiatives for hourly employees are as successful as those designed for professional staff. And it demonstrates that businesses offering hourly employees flexible work options benefit through enhanced recruitment, retention, engagement, cost control, productivity and financial performance.

Here’s a link to a news release that provides highlights of the research findings and another to an executive summary.

About Corporate Voices for Working Families, Mrs. Obama said:

So there are a lot of people counting on us to figure this out.  And one of the reasons I was interested in joining you today is because the research that you do provides a solid foundation for the conversations that we need to have on these issues.

Through your work, the private sector, government and other key stakeholders can have a real dialogue based on facts, find common ground and then develop innovative policies that can help employees manage their work and family obligations, without going crazy.

In promoting best practices –- some of which I believe we’ll hear about today, and I’m really looking forward to hearing about how some companies are making it work, because that’s how we’re going to figure this out, looking at the best practices and figuring out how we can replicate that — employers here learn how to implement programs that are beneficial to the bottom line.

Innovative Workplace Flexibility Options for Hourly Workers was researched and written by WFD Consulting and supported by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

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One response to “Michelle Obama and Work-Life Issues

  1. Pingback: Weekly summary of news on workplace flexibility and work-life balance for week ending 5/16/09 | Connecting Career and Life

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