15th Annual Symposium on Family Issues - Work-Life Policies that Make a Real Difference for Individuals, Families, and Organizations

Date 10/08/07 to 10/09/07
Location Nittany Lion Inn, Penn State
Description

In an era of soaring health care costs, reducing work-life stress is a potential win-win proposition for employers, employees, and their families. Workplace policies that provide employees with more autonomy and flexibility in matters such as where and when they work, time off to deal with family concerns, and assistance with child care, offer opportunities for employers to support employees' lives outside of work. Such policies may result in bottom-line pay-offs in terms of enhanced recruitment, retention, productivity, and lower health care costs. The state of research knowledge in this area is sparse, however. Work-family researchers are just beginning to move beyond correlational, descriptive studies into exciting intervention research that evaluates the consequences of changes in workplace policies. These new investigations pay attention not only to the effects of formal policies, but to the implications of changes in the informal culture of the workplace, for employers, employees, and employees' families. As this new wave of research gets off the ground, it is timely to ask how the research community can inform workplace policy in this important area.

Which workplace policies offer the best opportunity to improve the health and well-being of employees and their families?
The goal of session one is to critically assess the extant literature from a variety of disciplines to identify those workplace policies and practices that have the most potential to improve the health, well-being, and quality of life of employees and their families, as well as to improve organizational outcomes such as recruitment, retention, absenteeism, and productivity. Formal policies, however, are not enough. How does the informal workplace culture affect the implementation and acceptance of formal policies and practices? What strategies are effective in changing culture? For whom are these policies most important?

Lead Speaker: Ellen Ernst Kossek, Michigan State University School of Labor & Industrial Relations

Discussants:
Cynthia Thompson, Zicklin School of Business, Baruch College, CUNY
Netsy Firestein, Labor Project for Working Families
Forrest Briscoe, Smeal College of Business, Penn State

Intervening in the Corporate Workplace
The lead paper in session two will present findings from an on-going, multi-method, longitudinal study of an intervention designed to increase flexibility in when and where employees work. Currently underway in the corporate headquarters of a Fortune 500 company, the intervention targets not only formal policies and practices but the informal culture of work teams. The presenters will address: How can researchers form strong collaborative relationships with industry partners? What barriers to policy implementation and rigorous evaluation arise? From the perspective of researchers and collaborating organizations, which approaches to intervention are effective and which are not? Based on preliminary findings, what evidence exists that the policy change is making a difference? Do some groups benefit more than others?

Lead Speakers: Erin Kelly, Department of Sociology, University of Minnesota; Phyllis Moen, Department of Sociology, University of Minnesota

Discussants:
Shelley M MacDermid, Center for Families, Purdue University
Jeffrey Greenhaus, LeBow College of Business, Drexel University
Anisa M. Zvonkovic, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Texas Tech University

Making a Difference for Hourly Employees
Family-friendly workplace polices are often a strategy to compete for and retain a highly skilled workforce. However, entry-level hourly employees, especially parents, may need such policies even more than their professional colleagues do. The lead presentation focuses on an innovative evaluation of an ongoing schedule-related policy change for entry-level employees in the retail sector. What workplace challenges do entry-level hourly employees experience, and what policies might alleviate work-life conflict for this group? What do researchers need to be aware of in order to carry out effective intervention research in this area, and what questions remain to be answered?

Lead Speaker: Susan Lambert, School of Social Service Administration, University of Chicago

Discussants:
Ruth Milkman, Department of Sociology, Institute of Industrial Relations, UCLA
Noemí Enchautegui de Jesús, Department of Psychology, Syracuse University
Maureen Perry-Jenkins, Department of Psychology, University of Massachusetts

Future Directions for Research
The final session steps back to examine the larger policy context surrounding workplace interventions. What evidence will convince employers to institute family-friendly policies and practices? What do researchers need to learn about the pressures and constraints facing potential organizational partners? How can they most effectively disseminate their results so that they reach workplace and social policy makers? What broader cultural, economic, social, and political undercurrents should be taken into account when advocating change?

Lead Speaker: Jennifer Glass, Department of Sociology, University of Iowa

Discussants:
Chai Feldblum, Georgetown University Law Center
Ellen Galinsky, The Families and Work Institute
Michael A. Smyer, Center on Aging and Work/Workplace Flexibility, Boston College

The 2007 National Symposium on Family Issues is organized by Alan Booth, Distinguished Professor of Sociology, Human Development and Demography, Nancy Landale, Professor of Sociology and Demography and Director of the Population Research Institute, and Susan M. McHale, Professor of Human Development and Family Studies, and Director, Social Science Research Institute and Children, Youth and Families Consortium.

Book Citation

Crouter, Ann C. and Alan Booth (2009). Work-Life Policies. Washington, D.C.: Urban

The book is available from the Urban Institute Press (388 pages, ISBN 978-0-87766-748-3, $32.50). Order online at http://www.uipress.org, call 410-516-6956, or dial 1-800-537-5487 toll-free. More information is available at http://www.urban.org/books/worklifepolicies.

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