Feature

Family-friendly work policies make sound business sense for employers by increasing the loyalty and efficiency of employees, said APA President Diane F. Halpern, PhD, during her presidential address at APA's 2004 Annual Convention in Honolulu.

Halpern highlighted the work of the APA Presidential Initiative on Work and Families, a task force she appointed to find ways to help employees juggle the increasingly competing demands of work and home.

And more employees face these dual demands, she said, citing that 59 percent of mothers with infants less than a year old work outside the home. That's up from around 30 percent in 1976, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

"The very large increase in the number of mothers in the work force is one of the largest social changes of the last half of the 20th century," said Halpern, director of the Berger Institute for Work, Family and Children at California's Claremont McKenna College. "Yet despite the changing demographics, the world of work is still largely organized for a family model that is increasingly rare--for a stay-at-home caregiver."

For example, Halpern said, under the Fair Labor Standard Act, employers can fire employees who refuse to work overtime. Such laws especially hurt single parents or anyone responsible for the care of a person with disabilities or an older adult who needs care and does not have substitute care arrangements. For example, if employees cannot work overtime because they must care for a sick child, their bosses can legally fire them.

Because most families rely on the income of all working adults to make ends meet, an illness or other disruption to the earnings of one adult will cause financial havoc. In fact, more families will file for bankruptcy each year than for divorce, Halpern added. In response, she said, "We need new models of work-family interactions that provide returns on investment to employers and working families."

Halpern discussed several evidence-based task force recommendations geared for employers, school administrators, legislators and other policy-makers, and working families to achieve that goal. They include:

  • Employers should recognize that family-friendly policies make good business sense. Telecommuting, job sharing and flexible scheduling, for example, enhance job satisfaction and reduce job turnover, thereby making employees more committed to their employer and reducing hiring and training costs, Halpern said.

  • Employers should cross-train their employees. The additional training allows workers to cover for each other when needed and allows for flexible career paths and flexible work arrangements.

  • Employers should acknowledge and address how stress adversely affects worker productivity and health. Research shows stress increases blood pressure, anxiety and alcohol abuse, Halpern said. By promoting exercise and stress-management programs at work, employers can reduce absenteeism, burnout and insurance costs, she added. "It's simply cost effective to promote a healthy lifestyle among employees."

  • Families should advocate for--and schools and communities should provide--quality preschool programs near public transportation. Halpern cited a U.S. Department of Education study that found high-quality preschool for low-income children more than doubled the proportion who went on to attend four-year colleges compared with similar children who did not attend such preschools.

  • Communities and school districts should synchronize school calendars with adult work schedules by implementing year-round school programs. Year-round scheduling with school days that match usual work hours helps parents by relieving the stress they feel when school is out and they are still at work, noted Halpern.

Children from homes with low incomes lag behind their middle-class and wealthier peers at a rate approximately equal to two months per year, with the effect cumulative for every year of school. When these children attend year-round schools, Halpern explained, the cognitive lag for low-income children is reduced or eliminated.

Halpern said implementing these recommendations would align the realities of contemporary life and work. "Work and family can offer mutual benefits that can create win-win strategies for families and employers," she added.

Further Reading

To read the complete presidential initiative report, visit APA Work-Family.