Thursday, June 27, 2013

In Support of RI Senate Bill 231: Temporary Disability Insurance

Barbara Silver, Ph.D.
Assistant Research Professor
Research Coordinator

S 0231:  Related to Labor and Labor Relations—Temporary Disability Insurance

Testimony of Dr. Barbara Silver, Research Coordinator, URI Schmidt Labor Research Center, Co-Chair, URI Work-Life Committee

Before the Senate Committee on Finance

Good afternoon, members of the Senate Committee on Finance.  I am Dr. Barbara Silver, Research Coordinator at URI’s Schmidt Labor Research Center and the Co-Chair of URI’s Work-Life Committee.  Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you regarding RI’s proposed Temporary Caregiving Bill. 

The Schmidt Labor Research Center at URI is an independent, multidisciplinary unit devoted to the study and teaching of all aspects of work and employment.  A primary focus of the Center and the URI Work-Life Committee is the study and promotion of policies and practices that contribute to work-life integration for our employees.

Work and Family are interdependent:  in our present economy, especially, we are aware that families depend on work and workers to survive, but we less readily recognize that work depends on families, as well.  Families bear and raise the next generation of taxpayers, workers, and they take care of present and past workers.  Increasingly, progressive corporations are realizing that the “breadwinner-caretaker” family model, where workers come to work unfettered by family responsibilities, is no longer the norm.  Because nearly everyone is working today, and our population is rapidly aging, these companies and the rest of us must address the needs of working caregivers if we are to remain viable and competitive.  Too often, we still tend to think of children and caregiving as private choices, rather than a public good in which we must invest.   It is untenable and contradictory to support workers without supporting caregivers – today, they are one and the same.

Significant research shows that supporting working caregivers reaps economic rewards that benefit individual workers, families, businesses’ bottom lines, the health care system, and ultimately, the Rhode Island state economy.  Copious research shows clearly that on the national level, people want and need family-friendly workplaces and more balance in their lives.

The University of Rhode Island has long understood this, and has been a strong supporter of paid family leave since 2005, when the University passed its own paid parental leave policy for faculty, and then for all employees not under state collective bargaining agreements.   At URI, we recently surveyed all staff employees about their work-life needs and challenges.   Representing a diverse sub-sample of the population, we suggest our findings reflect the experiences and desires of Rhode Island workers in general.  Following are a few findings:

·       Of a list of 15 work-life supports, after scheduling flexibility options, employees endorsed paid parental leave and a sick bank (to enable access to additional time off work if needed) as the most useful supports that could be offered URI employees.

·       Half of all staff employees have (or anticipate having in the next 5 years) child care responsibilities.  While the majority rely on family to assist with child care needs, the estimated annual total expenditures by the 1860 staff employees for child care is over $1 million.  The majority of those with younger children who do not use child care do so because they cannot afford it.

·       Fully one-third of URI staff employees currently have elder care responsibilities; 45% anticipate having them during the next 5 years, and another 15% aren’t sure, meaning that perhaps over half of URI workers will be faced with elder care responsibilities soon.  The large majority rely on family members for help; even so, the estimated total annual expenditures for URI employees is almost $400,000. 

·       Demands of elder care can be especially stressful.  Compared to non-elder caregivers, elder caregivers report more work-life conflict, stress, and sense of overwork.  They also express less job satisfaction, lower commitment to the organization, and lower supervisory support for work-life challenges. These findings mirror national studies of workers. 

·       13%% of URI Staff are simultaneously caring for elders and children (15% nationally).  This number is projected to increase over the next few decades.

The TCI bill does not just make good economic sense for Rhode Island. It is a CLASS equity issue as lower income workers have less access to flexible work schedules, less job security and fewer options when faced with caregiving challenges.  It is GENDER equity issue, as women are still the predominant caregivers, and caregiving challenges can disproportionately impact their job security or advancement.  It is a RACE/ETHNICITY issue, as white people are much less likely to assume care for an elderly relative compared to Asians, Hispanics, and African Americans.

Finally, Rhode Island can embrace another opportunity to continue in its role as a progressive national leader by endorsing this legislation.  Being one of the earliest states to pass breastfeeding in the workplace legislation in 2003, we see today that not only have at least 25 states followed suit, but so has the federal government.  Likewise, as one of a tiny handful of countries in the world still without paid family leave, we believe Rhode Island can continue as a vanguard and help pave a similar path forward for working caregivers by passing this bill.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Breaking down the Maternal Foundation

Noel Burgess '13
MS Candidate
Labor Relations and Human Resources

Breaking down the Maternal Wall Foundation
Are women not capable of being equally committed to their children and their job? Is it possible for women to excel at parenthood and a career? A bias against women, which is predicated on a stereotype that links motherhood with a lack of commitment and competence also known as the “Maternal Wall” suggests it isn’t possible. A probable reason for the misperception of work commitment of mothers by employers is rooted in socially constructed gender roles.
Social Constructionism and Gender Role
Social Role Theory is a perspective that men and women behave differently in social situations and take on distinctive roles, because of the expectations society puts upon them.[i] The concept of gender roles is a set of rules to describe how men and women should be behaving and how they really behave stemming from expectations established in Social Role Theory[ii]. So how does this apply to mothers in the workplace? Social expectations of gender roles may lead to the perception that women are associated with a domestic role and men with a provider role. Consequently these beliefs can lead to attitudes, which influence employers on female workers once they become mothers, because women are expected to be more committed to their children, thus less committed to their work.[iii]
Commitment, Sex-Role Attitudes, and Women’s Employment
Work commitment of women cannot be inferred from the assumption of gender roles in society. [iv] . To conceptualize women’s role in employment I pose these questions: (1) What is the connection between attitudes, work commitment, and behavior? (2) Does work commitment remain stable as women accommodate employment behavior to family contingencies?  (3) Finally, do sex role attitudes impact the perception of women’s behavior at work? Bielby and Bielby’s research findings support the idea that work commitment is stable over time and is differentiated from gender role beliefs.  However their research supports that work commitment had an impact on employment behavior, but gender roles had no effect on the behavior of employees. Thus, mothers working fewer hours weren’t caused by lack of commitment; women are changing their behavior at work because of the burden of raising their children. 
Commitment and Behavior of Women at Work Over Time
How is the pattern of women’s labor force behavior related to their current subjective feelings of commitment at various life stages?  How does present psychological commitment to work affect subsequent labor force participation? To understand the basis for these questions two distinct approaches must be explained. First, a limited resource approach is the notion that people have a fixed amount of emotional investment, time, and energy to give. This relates to the perception of work commitment because of the current opinion of women is that their time and energy will be allocated toward their children thus less of those resources will be invested in work.  The second approach is an expansionist approach, which can be described a person being able to have enough resources to allot equal resources to family and work without neglecting either. I subscribe to the latter, women whether married with children or single believe work is more than just a paycheck. Furthermore many women with heavy family obligations still maintain a strong psychological commitment in spite of the inability to maintain continuous full time hours.[v] The notion that a woman who has a family with children automatically translates into a lack of work commitment is false.
I have posited that women face a “maternal wall” in the workplace because of the misconceptions of the decision makers in the workplace. Furthermore I have argued that motherhood doesn’t necessarily correlate with lack of commitment to work. Allotment of time, energy, and motivation for a woman concerning her family and work, influences her work behavior but that is different than the idea of motherhood directly effecting work commitment.[vi]  Gender roles may explain why men and women have perceptions and expectation about the sexes, but it certainly does not excuse them. It will take more than breaking down the “maternal wall” to counteract the misperceptions of mothers. This phenomenon is the direct consequence of rigid and archaic stereotypes people hold to, established long before they entered the workplace. Perhaps instead of knocking down a wall, which is the built upon an outdated base, people should look a bit deeper to the foundation and start there!  
[i] Eagly, A.H. (1987) Sex Difference in Social Behavior: A Social role interpretation. 
[ii] Eagly, A.H. & Steffen, V.J., (1986).  Gender Stereotypes, Occupational Roles, and Beliefs about part time employees. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 10, 252-262 
[iii] Halrynjo, S., & Lyng, S. T. (2009). Preferences, constraints or schemas of devotion? Exploring Norwegian mothers’ withdrawals from high-commitment careers The British Journal of Sociology, 60(2), 321-343. 
[iv] Bielby, D. D. V., & Bielby, W. (1984). Work Commitment, Sex-Role, and Women’s Employment. American Sociological Review, 49, 234-247. 
[v] Moen, P. & Smith, Ken (1986). Women at Work: Commitment and Behavior Over the Life Course. Sociological Forum, 1(3), 450-474. 
[vi] King, E. (2008). The effect of bias on the advancement of working mothers: Disentangling legitimate concerns from inaccurate stereotypes as predictors of advancement in academe. Human Relation, 61(12), 1677-1711

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Work-Life Movement and its Place at URI- Part 3


Barbara Silver, Ph.D.
Assistant Research Professor 
Research Coordinator
Alexis Lyman
MS Candidate
Labor Relations and Human Resources

Part 3.   Workplace Flexibility Close-Up:  How One URI Office is Making it Work
Implementing new policies and practices to help employees better balance competing life, family, and work responsibilities can be complicated in an institution comprised of nine labor unions with nine separate collective bargaining agreements.   But the flexibility model developed in the URI Controller’s Office is testament to the impact that creative determination can have, and offers an excellent example of how one URI office took the initiative to formally offer creative flexibility solutions to its approximately 62 employees across 5 departments and 3 labor unions.
Because of the nature of the work, the Controller’s Office is one place where flex hours and compressed work weeks are feasible options.   At least as long as nine years ago, the office responded to staff requests, and made flexible starting times informally available.  More recently, in 2007, Sharon Bell, Controller, and Trish Casey, Associate Controller, with input from Human Resources, implemented a comprehensive Voluntary Flexible Schedule program.   This thoughtfully-developed program offers basic flex options, while emphasizing the need to ensure business continues to be conducted efficiently.  As stated in the program description, it “offer[s] the staff the option to work a flexible schedule based on [the] department’s needs as well as ensuring supervision, hours of operation, customer service, overall department responsibilities and deadlines, etc., are covered.”

The program offers two flex options, available for 6-month terms, and approval for either is granted depending on seniority, the department’s work load and other factors.  These options are offered to staff and managers alike.  One option, a “flexible ‘day-off’ schedule,” offers essentially a compressed work week, in which an employee may take one day off during a 2-week pay period, while still working a 35-hour work week.   The second option is a “non-standard hours schedule,” in which an employee may design a 7-hour schedule between the hours of 7:30 to 5:00, rather than the standard 8:30 to 4:30.  Once the schedule is approved, it cannot be changed for 6 months, unless the employee wishes to revert back to her or his normal schedule. Those who choose a flex option must sign an agreement that includes parameters and restrictions for use, as well as consequences if abuse of the new schedule occurs.   “This is a binding agreement between the supervisor and the employee.  It is black and white,” says Bell.  Departments within the Controller’s Office must develop plans that address issues relating to overall department schedules and optimal functioning.  After 6 months and a positive assessment, employees may renew or modify their contract, or return to their regular work schedule.

Both Bell and Casey understand that today employees, both women and men, are increasingly facing multiple, competing, and sometimes simultaneous challenges in meeting family and personal demands while adhering to a strict work schedule.  “We try to listen to everybody’s needs,” says Casey.  “We emphasize that this is not about women or for special needs – it is for everybody across the board.”   And, in addition to tuning in to the work-life needs of their employees, they believe they have improved their office’s functioning.  “This is not meant to be an interference with how we service our community,” emphasized Casey.  “We feel we are serving our community better with a broader number of hours we work.  We are here as early as 7:30 to sometimes as late as 5:00 pm.  And we do this without the additional expense of Overtime.”

Why provide these options?  “People wanted them.  They heard about it being done other places, and asked for it.  They use it to meet child care demands, go to doctor’s appointments, or to go to school themselves.  For those who work the ‘day-off’ schedule, it also helps with gas prices,” says Casey.   And the benefits the two managers talk about mirror national findings that flexibility reaps increases in job satisfaction, productivity, morale, and more.  “People are able to be productive both at work and at home, and some employees say they are more productive during their flex weeks than their non-flex weeks,” she added.  Bell agreed, “Things are going very well.  There is no diminishment in productivity or workload. Employees opting for the flexible ‘day-off’ schedule get on a roll, they put in the extra time during a day, and don’t have to stop what they are doing.  They know they have to get what they need to get done and have things in order for the day they are going to be out.”

At first, Bell and Casey shared concerns echoed by others hesitant to implement flexibility options.  “We were worried about abuse.  In the past, when flexibility was more informal, some people did take advantage of it.  But this newer plan is more structured - we looked at everything that could go wrong – holidays, sick days, coming in late, etc,”  said Bell.  The administrators are firm about the rules.  For example, the office has a 7-minute rule – if an employee is less than 7 minutes late, they make those few minutes at the end of the day.  If it happens periodically, they work with the employee to perhaps shift their hours by 15 minutes.  But for the flex people, there is no 7-minute rule, and those who come in late must discharge time.  “If they want it, they have to be responsible,” says Bell.  “People have been very appreciative.  From a manager’s perspective, it is not as disruptive as one might think.”

Another oft-cited barrier to implementing flex options is the fear by supervisors that they will be inundated with requests and that managing schedules and keeping track will become too time-consuming and burdensome.  Not so, say both Bell and Casey.  “It takes a little thought in the beginning, but it is not hard to manage, once you get it down. “  And not as many people opted for a flexible schedule as they expected.  In the beginning, there were perhaps as many as half the staff on formal flex schedules, but that has dwindled to about a third.  “People want it until they try it, then they find out it may not be so great.  They find out that it is not really a “day off” – they still have to put in their 35 hours!”  In one case, an employee opted out of a plan because it actually added stress at home.  For another, a mother determined that a day off meant an older child spent some time unsupervised, and so she switched to a non-standard hours schedule that better matched her child’s school schedule.

Yet another perceived barrier, placing undue burdens on other employees and causing employee resentment, was touched on by Casey.  She noted that this plan sometimes can place burdens back on managers who are covering for those off on flex days.  “One of my managers takes every other Friday off as her flex day, and the burden of her not being here falls on me, just as if I took a day off, my duties would fall to Sharon [Bell].”  However she noted that they did consider this when they implemented the model.  The antidote to these shifts in duties is careful planning, and promoting a “culture of coverage,” or a work environment where employees support one another, recognizing that everyone will have a time when they need co-worker support.   It appears the URI Controller’s Office offers a good example of this.  Another tactic is to cross-train employees, so that each employee can assume other duties if need be.  Cross-training can be a powerful flexibility tool in creating a nimble and efficient workplace, as it can not only service the organization’s needs, but can provide professional development and skill broadening for employees.  The Controller’s Office has a “buddy system” in which a designated back-up, or buddy, is available to fill in when needed if their buddy is out.
Helene Bucka, Travel Clerk,  is a member of the ACT union.  She says that about 75% of the clerical staff, including managers, are on some type of flex schedule.   Helene’s flex schedule enables her to take every other Friday off, except during pay periods in which a holiday falls.  So for non-holiday pay periods, Helene works one regular 5-day, 35-hour week, and a flex week, during which she works 9-hour days Monday through Wednesday, an 8-hour day on Thursday.  She notes that there really are no challenges, except perhaps that some 9-hour days, especially Mondays, seem long.  However, she is quick to note that the benefits definitely outweigh any challenges.  She appreciates the opportunity to have some quiet time when she comes in early.  “I get more work done in the morning when it is quiet.”  Why did she opt for a flex schedule?  “It is nice to have a 3-day weekend.  I can get mundane chores and errands done on Friday, and then I actually have the weekend to do some things I enjoy.”  Helene has a counterpart in the travel office, who has also opted for a flex schedule, though with Mondays off, to enable someone to be in the office every day.

Helene says she is grateful to have this opportunity, and wishes she could do it even more.  “I can’t see how it is difficult to manage at all.  We all sign contracts, the payroll department and our supervisors know what our schedules are.  It is good for morale – it is nice to feel that people are thinking of you.”  When asked if she thought there might be a negative impact on productivity, she replied, “Not at all.  I make a point to have everything ready before I take my day off.” She also noted that there was no resentment among co-workers.  “We all have the same opportunity.  It is a choice people make.”

In the Accounts Payable Department, says Manager Judy Moore, 7 of the 16 employees, including herself, are on a flex schedule.  Her schedule is similar to Helene’s, which affords her 12 extra days “off” a year.  Judy is also very enthusiastic about the program, and agrees that she and her employees are more productive.  “It is a big benefit to employees, and people want to get the work done.  A 7-hour day now feels like a short day to me.”  From a management perspective, Judy says there are few challenges as long as the proper controls are in place, such as ensuring people’s schedules don’t conflict, and changing phone messages that direct customers to the appropriate person.  She agrees with Bell that there has been no abuse.  “We get things in writing, and everything is understood.”

One of the employees on a flex schedule that Judy supervises is Kathy LaCroix.  “I love it. I get a lot more work done, and am definitely more productive in those 2 extra hours on the long days.  I get to take long weekends, have an extra day to get chores done, schedule appointments, and can travel more easily to visit my mother in Long Island.  When you are a working mom, time is precious and you never have enough of it.”  Kathy’s comments reflect a working environment that is supportive and that promotes a culture of coverage and co-worker support. She agrees there is no resentment among her co-workers, as everybody has access to it, and everyone knows to cover for one another on their days off.  “I am grateful to my supervisors, and we all feel the same way in this department.  It would be nice if everyone could have this opportunity.  It makes life easier, and my family has adjusted to it.  It might not work out for everyone, perhaps those with young children, but it has been great for me.”

Monday, February 13, 2012

Case on "Nonlawyers" in Labor Arbitration Calls for Statutory Action

Matthew M. Bodah, Ph.D.
Professor of Labor Relations
Research Director, SLRC and 
Chair, Economics Department

Recently the Rhode Island Supreme Court issued a decision in the case In re Town of Little Compton (Supreme Court No. 2011-101-MP).  The sole issue in the case was whether a “nonlawyer” union representative was guilty of the unauthorized practice of law in representing grievants in a labor arbitration hearing.  The court prudently determined that any “technical” violation of the statute governing the unauthorized practice of law was trumped by years of labor relations norms and the universal practice of other states.   Justice Gilbert V. Indeglia concluded his decision on behalf of a three-member panel of justices by stating “[A]lthough the conduct involved in this case may be the practice of law pursuant to [Rhode Island statute], because of the long-standing involvement of nonlawyer union employees at public grievance arbitrations, we will not limit involvement at this time.”  In his decision, Justice Indeglia also wrote that “neither we nor the parties herein were able to uncover any jurisdiction that has specifically declared that nonlawyer representation in labor arbitrations constitutes the unauthorized practice of law.” 
           This case began three years ago when International Association of Firefighters Local 3957 filed two grievances concerning a staffing issue on behalf of members in the Town of Little Compton.  Joseph Andriole, a staff representative of the Rhode Island State Association of Firefighters, was assigned to handle the case, which prompted the town to file a motion to have him removed based on his lack of a license to practice law.  The motion was denied and the arbitration proceeded with an eventual decision in favor of the town.  Prior to the decision, however, the town had brought the issue of Andriole’s status to the attention of the Rhode Island Bar Association’s Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee, which found him in “technical violation” of Rhode Island law and reported this violation to the state supreme court for further action.
           In making impressive use of a number of scholarly articles and reports from other states, Justice Indeglia avoided what could have been a tragically ironic decision.  Labor arbitration was, after all, developed as a quicker, less expensive, and less technically daunting alternative to formal litigation.  Nonlawyers on both sides of the table have always been broadly accepted in the process.  Many of arbitrations earliest practitioners were nonlawyers—often industrial relations scholars or economists—who approached each case as an extension of the collective bargaining process itself; an opportunity to clarify the parties’ intentions in negotiations and develop working standards for the constructive conduct of labor relations on the shop floor.  In fact, some claim that the process has veered from its problem-solving roots and has become too entangled in the norms of litigation, a point made by Reginald Alleyne in his article, cited by Justice Indeglia, entitled “Delawyerizing Labor Arbitration.”
           If there is one troubling aspect to Justice Indeglia’s decision, it is in its lack of finality.  As stated above, he wrote that the court will not disturb the current practice “at this time.”  But he continues:  “We may in the future, however, under the supervisory powers of the Court and with the full Court participating, decide the generic issue of nonlawyers participating in public grievance arbitrations.”  The General Assembly should immediately forestall any need for the court to revisit this matter.  It could do so by adopting statutory language similar to California’s and cited in Justice Indeglia’s decision:  “any party to an arbitration arising under collective bargaining agreements…may be represented in…those proceedings by any person, regardless of whether that person is licensed to practice law in this state.”  Action by the legislature now could avoid an unnecessary waste of resources, including the court’s valuable time, in the future. 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

NLRB Remedies in Peril

Alexis Lyman
Schmidt Labor Research Center

One important piece of legislation to watch right now is Senate Bill 1523 (S. 1523 (2011)). This bill is the companion to H.R. 2587 which passed the House in September. The language of S. 1523 is identical to H.R. 2587. The preface of the Senate bill reads “to prohibit the National Labor Relations Board (Board) from ordering any employer to close, relocate, or transfer employment under any circumstance.” With the prohibition applicable to all circumstances, this bill significantly weakens, if not removes, the Board’s means of remedying unfair labor practices that may arise during contract negotiations or during the term of the collective bargaining agreements. To me, this seems a slippery slope.

By eliminating remedies available to right unfair labor practices, these bills turn the Board into a figurehead with no power. Section 10(c) of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) states that when the Board has determined an unfair labor practice exists that the “Board shall state its findings of fact and shall issue and cause to be served on such person an order requiring such person to cease and desist from such unfair labor practice and to take such affirmative action including reinstatement of employees with or without back pay.” These bills would remove the ability of the Board to issue a cease and desist order and to take affirmative action. Basically, these pieces of legislation amount to allowing the Board to only give violators a slap on the wrist and nothing more.

Section 1 of the NLRA espouses the findings and policies behind the enactment of the NLRA. The findings address the inequality of bargaining power between employees and employers. In addition, one purpose of the NLRA was to encourage friendly resolution of industrial disputes. H.R. 2587 and S. 1523 seen to have forgotten about Section 1 since these two bills will result in inequality between employees and employers by stripping the Board of the ability to enforce adherence to the NLRA mandates by employers. Therefore, these bills signal to Corporations that there will be no negative repercussions for acting in violation of the NLRA.

The exact language of the S. 1523 (2011) is as follows:
 “Sec. 2 Authority of the NLRB.
Section 10(c) of the National Labor Relations Act (29 U.S.C. 160) is amended by inserting before the period at the end of the following:  ‘:Provided further, That the Board shall have no power to order an employer (or seek an order against an employer) to restore or reinstate any work, product, production line, or equipment, to rescind any relocation, transfer, subcontracting, outsourcing, or other change regarding the location, entity, or employer who shall be engaged in production or other business operations, or to require any employer to make an initial or additional investment at a particular plant, facility, or location’.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Work-Life Movement and its Place at URI- Part 2

Barbara Silver, Ph.D.
Assistant Research Professor
Research Coordinator
Part 2.  Work-Life Initiatives Across the Country and Here at URI
Demographic shifts have re-shaped the American workforce. Increasingly, the intersection of work, family, and life responsibilities provides challenges for the majority of workers.  Workplaces across the country are responding.  This series will cover:  Part 1.  What Workers Need Today: Addressing the Workplace-Workforce Mismatch; Part 2.  Work-Life Initiatives Across the Country and Here at URI; and Part 3.  Workplace Flexibility Close-Up:  How One URI Office is Making it Work

National Work-Life Efforts are Vigorous and Increasing

Alternative work schedules, compressed work weeks, paid leave, child/elder care services and subsidies, telecommuting, creative phased retirement plans, on-ramps and off-ramps for those negotiating career changes, job sharing, cross training, lactation rooms, part-time options, tenure clock extensions, and other solutions are becoming mainstream options rather than exceptions.  University, as well as corporate, human resource divisions nationwide are creating work-life specialist positions, offices and programs to develop flexibility options and other benefits to meet the work-life needs of their employees. Increasingly, prospective employees rank work-life balance as a high priority and are seeking workplaces that offer work-life supports.

In March 2010, the President’s Council of Economic Advisors published a report on the economic benefits of workplace flexibility, and the President hosted a White House Forum on Workplace Flexibility.1 The Department of Labor led subsequent efforts around the country to promote workplace flexibility and generate best practices in the private sector. Telework mandates for federal employees, for example, have significantly increased in the last two years.  In September 2011, the National Science Foundation launched a 10-year Career-Life Balance Initiative to promote greater workplace flexibility for its own employees, for men and women grantees in research careers, and within the institutions they fund.2  In response to the NSF initiative, the Association of American Universities and the Association of Public Land-grant Universities have partnered with NSF to support and promote flexible work and learning environments at the nation’s universities.

Organizations promoting the work-life agenda abound.  These include the Families & Work Institute, Boston College Center for Work and Family, Corporate Voices for Working Families, Alliance for Work-Life Progress, the Sloan Work and Family Research Network, Work, Family, and Health Network, When Work Works, and Georgetown Law’s Workplace Flexibility 2010 Initiative.  The National Clearinghouse on Academic Worklife specifically provides information for faculty and higher education administrators.  The College and University Work & Family Association (CUWFA) provides leadership in facilitating the integration of work and study with family/personal life at institutions of higher learning.   The University of Rhode Island is a member institution.

Regional University Efforts

These efforts include the University of New Hampshire, which has recently been awarded a 2011 Sloan Foundation Award for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility.  Said Dick Cannon, Vice President for Administration and Finance at UNH, “Employers that provide flexibility to their employees, with regard to where and how their work gets done, gain a tremendous financial benefit and competitive advantage in today’s economy. With workplace flexibility, UNH is better prepared for challenging state budget cycles by taking advantage of cost savings and better positioned to deliver the highest quality and value education to our students.3  Of note among its many strategies is the launching of a comprehensive work-life survey to its employees, and an effort to “support a strong performance-based culture focused on results whereby flexible work arrangements and a results orientation need not be at odds, but can be a win-win for the university and its staff.”  The University of Vermont, likewise, has recently hired Massachusetts-based Wellness Corporation to advise on the development of work-life programs.  UVM has an active work-life website as part of their human resources division, offering several flexible work options and other work-life services.  A sampling of other nearby institutions that have embraced a work-life agenda include University of Connecticut, Brown University, Rhode Island School of Design, UMass Amherst, Northeastern University, University of Maine, James Madison University, Boston University, Harvard University, Yale University, and Boston College’s Center for Work and Family.

The URI Work-Life Committee (WLC)

The WLC was formed in 2003, due to a collaborative effort between the President’s Commission on the Status of Women (PCOSW) and the NSF ADVANCE Institutional Transformation Program.  A volunteer group of faculty, staff, and students, the Committee is attuned to national and regional advancements in the work-life arena, and brings cutting edge scholarship to bear in its understanding and promotion of relevant issues.  It is the sole voice on campus promoting a coherent work-life/workplace flexibility agenda, a position we hope will change as our efforts become institutionalized and embraced by Human Resources and the Administration.  The Committee has remained very active over the past 8 years in pursuing policy initiatives, improved practices, and increased awareness of the organizational, economic, and individual benefits in creating a flexible and family-friendly work environment at URI.   The WLC has worked to pass policy (paid parental leave, dual career, lactation), sponsor educational events (administrator and chairs’ workshops, outside speaker events, brown bag topical lunches, etc.), worked as an advisor and resource for individual issues, presented nationally (and internationally in 2012), and engaged in external outreach.  Their website offers a thorough overview of the work-life effort at URI: Currently the WLC, in collaboration with the Schmidt Labor Research Center (SLRC), is preparing to launch a campus-wide staff survey, to be followed by a faculty survey to assess the work-life needs, attitudes, and experiences of URI employees.  This instrument, developed by URI social scientists, represents current, robust constructs in the work-life literature.  It will provide valuable insights to URI administrators and supervisors, as well as exploring inter-relationships between several variables related to work-life, such as stress, care giving responsibilities, level of supervisory support, job satisfaction, intent to leave, dual earner status, etc.  From these findings, they plan to develop a set of recommendations that they believe will be useful in moving URI forward.

Also in the near term, the Committee’s work will focus on exploring the improvement or creation of several URI policies, such as pregnant/parenting students, opt-out tenure-clock extension options, creative phased retirement options, more responsive dual career hiring options, paid parental leave modifications, and part-time employee tuition waiver options, as examples.  As they recognize work-life initiatives as economic drivers, the WLC and the SLRC are aiming to foster relationships with union leaders and Rhode Island economic development offices to promote work-life and flexibility as key components in economic development efforts state-wide. 

Work-Life Options at URI

While there is a need of expansion, options do exist in several forms.  In 2004, a group of faculty campaigned to then President Carothers to improve an archaic maternity leave policy.  Following many months of work by the PCOSW and the ADVANCE Work-Life Committee, a 6-week paid parental leave policy was adopted by the faculty union, AAUP.  This policy was subsequently adapted by all Board of Governor unions, covering approximately 63% of URI employees.  While a significant step forward, this policy is in need of improvement.  Steps should also be taken to determine a means to offer paid leave to the remaining URI employees, who constitute over a third of the URI employee pool, and include employees in 2 of URI’s largest unions, Council 94 and ACT/NEA. Through this same collaboration, URI has a set of nationally-recognized dual-career hiring guidelines for faculty, an increasing challenge in recruitment, as the numbers of dual earner couples increase.  These guidelines need to be better understood and applied more systematically by search committees. In 2008, due to an   Elsevier Foundation grant awarded to the WLC co-chairs, Barbara Silver and Helen Mederer, a Lactation Program was launched, resulting in the adoption of a lactation policy for new mothers returning to work, the establishment of several lactation sites on 3 campuses, and the Rhode Island Department of Health Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace Gold Award.

The WLC sponsors work-life workshops and brown bag lunches.  The URI Human Resources Office sponsors talks and workshops on wellness and financial planning.  Faculty have a phased retirement option, though it, too, needs expansion beyond the current one semester on, one semester off schedule.  Offering phased retirement options to staff employees should also be considered. While URI has a generous benefits package, there is much more that can be done here to make URI a truly family friendly, flexible workplace.  For example, while providing child and elder care giving assistance can perhaps be the one of the more expensive work-life benefits, this is a high priority for many workers.  Options include developing a campus child/elder care center, providing care giving subsidies, and hiring outside contractors.

Workplace Flexibility:  The Building Blocks are There

As far back as 1987, the Rhode Island General Assembly, recognizing changing workforce trends and actions taken by other states, and to “reduce commuter congestion, conserve energy, increase employee morale, increase productivity, and reduce tardiness and absenteeism,” (Ch. 36-3.1-4) passed legislation requiring that optional alternative work schedules be offered to state employees (Ch. 36-3.1-2-8).4  These include flextime, compressed work weeks, job-sharing, permanent part-time, and other alternative work plans.   As well, there are no union contracts for URI employees that specifically prohibit flexible scheduling.  In fact, at least two local union contracts (PSA and ACT) have specific language regarding flexible work schedules, and most, if not all, national union websites have position statements and/or information about the need to balance work and family, and how to bargain for work and family benefits.

It is time for URI to embrace the 1987 legislation and take actions to put a variety of formal, effective, well-publicized, and accessible measures in place for all employees. Relying as we largely have on a few informed supervisors, and an informal, case-by-case approach to solving workers’ needs is inefficient, invites discrimination, and can disadvantage workers who are unable or unwilling to ask and who may need scheduling adjustments the most.  The bottom line is that the University should be proactive rather than reactive in being supportive and responsive to employees’ work-life needs.  We need to embrace a “culture of coverage,” whereby employees and supervisors cover for each other when challenges arise, as they will for every employee at some point, rather than a “culture of compliance” to rigid rules. 
The URI Controllers’ Office provides an excellent model of how to develop a unit-wide set of 
policies to enable approximately 62 employees scheduling flexibility.  Working with Human Resources, they put a formal “Voluntary Flexible Schedule” program in place, and managers in that office are very enthusiastic about its positive outcomes, citing increased productivity and morale.   Coming up next in the Work-Life Movement series is a full description of their model, including an interview with the Controller, the Associate Controller, and employees who have used the program.


1 White House Council of Economic Advisors (2010).  Work-lilfe balance and the economics of workplace flexibility. Retrieved from:
2  White House Office of the Press Secretary (Sept. 26, 2011).  The white house and national science foundation announce new workplace flexibility policies to support America’s scientists and their families.  Retrieved from:
3 University of New Hampshire Campus Journal (September 21, 2011). UNH receives prestigious Sloan award for excellence in workplace flexibility. Retrieved from:
4  R.I. General Laws Title 36, Public Officers and Employees, Chapter 36-3.1: Alternative Work Schedules. Retrieved from:

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Stuck in a Job and You Can’t Get Out

by Professor Tony Wheeler
Associate Professor of Human Resource Management

Even in a down economy employees still voluntarily quit their jobs.  Estimates suggest roughly 1.5% of the workforce recently quit their jobs .  Employees leave jobs regardless of prevailing economic conditions, and many times the employees who leave are the employees who can: your most marketable employees.  Sometimes leaving a job is the healthiest course of action; however, we know that some people stay when they shouldn’t.

Have you ever been stuck in a situation, feeling that you cannot get out of it? What are the factors that bind you to your job and you organization?  Certainly finances bind you to a job, as does the prevailing job market.  You need to pay bills.  Other factors also bind you to a job and an organization.  You might otherwise feel like a misfit if not for the relationship with your boss. You might also stay at your job because of how it affects your home life.  Changing jobs affects your home life. In fact, your spouse’s job can keep you from leaving your job.  Really?

Yes.  Really.  I will presented a paper at a conference this past November on some research I conducted with colleagues that examines the impact your spouse’s job has on your turnover decisions. To your detriment. We looked at a concept called embeddedness, which describes the ties that bind you to your job and organization. Aspects of the job and company enmesh you; things like relationships with your boss or colleagues, your feelings of fitting the job and organizational culture, and understanding what you will sacrifice if you leave your job and employer.  Similarly, aspects of your home life actually keep you embedded to your current employer.  The more you like your neighborhood and community, the more close relationships you have in your community, the more you worry about losing those things.  Changing jobs, even for a better job in the same local labor market, comes with inherent uncertainty.  What if things don’t work out at the new job?  What if the company goes under?  What if they decide to relocate you?  The uncertainty threatens your home life.

We found, more specifically, that your spouse’s embeddedness in his or her own job and community affects your turnover decisions. However, there is a distinct downside to this.  We tracked two large samples of employees and their spouses over 2 and 5 year periods, asking them how embedded they felt, whether or not they intended to change jobs and actually changed jobs, and their emotional exhaustion.  We reasoned that when you want to leave but cannot, you start to feel worn out.  You wake up in the morning and you want to stay in bed.  That’s emotional exhaustion, and under normal circumstances emotional exhaustion is a precursor to turnover.

Before you leave a job due to exhaustion, however, you first become dissatisfied and decommitted.  You become burned out, and your motivation to work hard decreases.  Over time, your performance will deteriorate.  Emotional exhaustion is the tipping point.  Once you get there, the rest will slowly but inexorably occur. The personal effects of exhaustion can be quite severe, including increased heart attack rates, mental health deterioration, and a general decline in your overall well-being.

When you feel exhausted, you want out of your current job and employer.  Yet changing jobs is disruptive to your life and to your spouse’s life.  We found the more embedded you are in your job, company, and community, the less likely you are to leave, even if you are emotionally exhausted.  Moreover, the more embedded your spouse is in his or her job, company, and community, the less likely you are to leave, again even if you are emotionally exhausted.

Our findings pose problems for employers.  Here you have employees with increasing emotional exhaustion who stay at the job when they would otherwise leave. This exhaustion not only hinders employee performance but actually hurts their well-being.  Moreover, exhausted employees generally do not perform their job very well, tend to take more time away from work trying to recharge their batteries, and actually end up in the doctor’s office more (thus increasing employer healthcare costs).

First, I would recommend your company engage in at least semi-annual workforce surveying.  Don’t just capture things like job satisfaction and commitment.  Survey employee well-being.  Survey for known stressers that lead to exhaustion (role overload, relationship conflict, supervisor relationships, perceived support).  If you can detect environmental problems early, you can rectify those problems quickly.  Second, you might also consider adding employee assistance programs (EAPs) through your benefits packages.  Research on EAPs suggest they generate considerable returns on investment.  Finally, you might consider helping employees separate from your company through outplacement counseling.  I understand these last two options cost money, but so does a burned out employee. These last two options might save your organization money in the long term, and in the meantime will make your organization a better place to work.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Work-Life Movement and its Place at URI- Part 1

Barbara Silver, Ph.D.
Assistant Research Professor
Research Coordinator
Noel Burgess
MS Candidate,
Labor Relations & Human Resources

Part 1. What Workers Need Today: Addressing the Workplace-Workforce Mismatch
Demographic shifts have re-shaped the American workforce. Increasingly, the intersection of work, family, and life responsibilities provides challenges for the majority of workers. Workplaces across the country are responding. This series will cover: Part 1. What Workers Need Today: Addressing the Workplace-Workforce Mismatch; Part 2. Work-Life Initiatives Across the Country and Here at URI; and Part 3. Workplace Flexibility Close-Up: How One URI Office is Making it Work

This Ain’t Your Daddy’s Workforce

The workforce is looking dramatically different than it did a few decades ago, and today, the intersection of work, family, and life responsibilities provides challenges for the majority of workers. First, the workforce is nearly gender balanced: women comprise 49% of the workforce, and this includes 72% of mothers with children under the age of 18.1 Fully 80% of married/partnered employees live in dual-earner couples, outnumbering breadwinner/homemaker households 3-to-1.2 Second, it is older. By 2015, 20% of the workforce will be over 55, and between 2006-2016 labor force participation by workers 65 and over will increase a staggering 85%.3 Third, it is more ethnically diverse. From 1980 to 2020, the white working-age population is projected to decline from 82% to 63%, but during the same period, the minority portion of the workforce is projected to double, from 18% to 37%.4 Fourth, it is working harder. In 2006, middle-income families worked an average of 11 hours more per week than they did in 1979.5 Men are contributing more to household and care giving responsibilities than in the past, and women less, but women are still doing more than men. Today, 59% of those caring for an elderly parent or friend are simultaneously managing work and care giving responsibilities. The number of unpaid caregivers for the elderly is estimated to reach 37 million by 2050, an increase of 85% from 2000, as baby boomers reach retirement age in record numbers.6 Elder care is expected to be one of the most important issues facing American families in the coming decades.

In short, this literally ain’t your daddy’s workforce, one that defined the time when traditional workplace policies and practices were created. Rigid workplace policies are still largely designed to meet the needs of a 1960s traditional breadwinner-caretaker family model, in which the ideal worker is someone (typically male) whose family or personal responsibilities do not interfere with work expectations or job performance. The mismatch between this traditional workplace and a workforce that is older, more diverse, technologically savvy, and in which the majority of workers have (or will have) some care giving responsibilities, calls for a paradigm shift in how we define when and how work gets done.

Workplace Flexibility –  A Must

Fully 90% of employed mothers and 95% of employed fathers now report some kind of work-life conflict.7 Workplace flexibility ranks among the top 2 or 3 most important job characteristics to employees, just behind compensation. In one poll, nearly 80% of employees said they would use and benefit from more flexible work options if there were no negative consequences at work.8 Employees report that the ability to balance work and home significantly impact their career choices and influence their decisions to accept a position or to remain in one.9

Researchers and progressive businesses and organizations recognize that attending to the work-life challenges today’s workers face, including providing flexible working options, has become a business imperative and improves an organization’s bottom line. It is shown compellingly time and again that flexibility is an economic driver, increasing productivity, retention, job satisfaction, engagement and commitment, and improved physical and mental health.10a,b,c For example, businesses like Best Buy, Dow Chemical, IBM, American Experess, Sun Microsystems, to name only a few, report increases in productivity between 32 and 50% with telecommuting programs.11 Concurrently, it results in lower operational costs and a greener workplace, as well as less stress, absenteeism, presenteeism, and turnover.12a,b In short, there are robust findings that support the many positive human capital and business outcomes that result from embracing a work-life integration agenda, and providing flexibility options to employees.

It is crucial to recognize that workplace flexibility and work-life integration efforts serve two parallel goals. They serve economic goals, producing significant positive business impacts and serving as powerful recruitment and retention tools. However, they also serve important equity goals. Traditional, rigid workplace practices disadvantage, among others, care givers (the majority of whom are still women), older workers, and lower wage workers. Indeed, it is the lower wage family that arguably has the most severe challenges meeting competing work and home demands, and the ones who often have the least access to flexible work options. As Joan Williams, noted work-life legal scholar has written, these are the workers who are “one sick child away from being fired.”13

Supervisory Support is Key

There are several perceived drawbacks to providing flexible work options, all of which have been effectively disproven. These include cost, fear of abuse of policies, loss of productivity and absenteeism, difficulty in supervising employees, and others.14a,b Partly because of these perceived drawbacks, maintaining a traditional organizational culture and resistance to change on the part of supervisors and organizations presents perhaps the most challenging obstacle to promoting a flexible workplace. Even where policies may exist, in many workplaces they may be not well publicized or encouraged, producing a disconnect between policy and practices, or an "implementation gap."15 And, along with managers, employees are also often resistant, fearing negative repercussions from using available leave policies. Indeed, the Families and Work Institute’s 2002 National Study of the Changing Workforce revealed that fully 39% of employees surveyed perceive the use of flexible work options as having a negative impact on their job advancement.16  In one recent national poll from Workplace Options, a national work-life services provider, more than two-thirds of working fathers have experienced negativity or problems with their current employer due to conflicts between their job and duties as a caregiver.17

While it may be challenging, manager resistance, employee skepticism, and cultural resistance to changing the old industrial work model can be overcome. A better understanding of the issues and the strength of the business case for flexibility, supervisory training in best practices, performance-based management strategies (rather than a reliance on “face-time”), and open, consistent communication between supervisors and employees will go a long way toward overcoming these obstacles. There are scores of ways work-life initiatives, policies, and practices can be implemented. Thinking creatively and tailoring options to meet the varying needs and job requirements of different categories of workers takes careful planning, but reaps rewards. There are many, many solutions, and they need not be cumbersome or costly. Employers must think flexibly about flexibility.


1   U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Current Population Survey, 2007. Retrieved from:
2    US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Labor Force Characteristics by Race & Ethnicity, 2010. Report 1032, August 2011. Retrieved from:
3    US Dept. of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Spotlight on Statistics: Older Workers. Retrieved from
4   National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, Policy Alert, November 2005:
5   Mishel, L., Bernstein, J. & Shierholz, H. (2009). The State of Working America 2008/2009. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
6   Georgetown University Law Center, Workplace Flexibility 2010. Older Workers and the need for workplace flexibility fact sheet. Retrieved from:
7   Williams, J. & Boushey, H. (2010). The three faces of work-family conflict: The poor, the professionals, and the missing middle. Center for American Progress and Center for WorkLife Law. Retrieved from:
8   Galinsky, E., Bond, J.t., & Hill, E.J. (2004). Workplace flexibility: What is it? Who has it? Who wants it? Does it make a difference? New York: Families & Work Institute
9   Corporate Voices for Working Families (2005, November). Business impacts of flexibility: An imperative for expansion. Washington, D.C.
10a Corporate Voices for Working Families (2005, November). Business impacts of flexibility: An imperative for expansion. Washington, D.C.
10b Galinsky, e. Bond, J.T., & Hill, E.J. (2004). Bottom-line benefits of work/life programs.   HR Focus (July):3-4.
10c Pitt-Catsouphes, M., Matz-Costa, C., & Besen, E. (2009). Workplace flexibility: Findings from the age and generations study. Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College.
11  Lister, K., & Harnish, T. (2010b). Workshifting benefits: The bottom line.
12a ibid.
12b Halpern, D.F. (2005, May). How time-flexible work policies can reduce stress, improve health, and save money. Stress and Health. Retrieved from:
13  Williams, J. (2010). Reshaping the Work-Life Debate: Why Men and Class Matter. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
14a Bond, J.T., Galinsky,E., Kim, S.S., & Brownfield, E. (2005). National study of employers. Families and Work Institute. Retrieved from:
14b McNamara, T., Wong, M., Brown, M. & Pitt-Catsouphes, M. (2009). States as employers-of -choice. A collaborative project of the Twiga Foundation, Inc. and the Sloan Center on Aging & Work. Retrieved from:
15  Lewis, S. & Haas, L. (2005). Work-life integration and social policy. In Kossek, E. & Lambert, S. (Eds.): Work and Life Integration. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
16 Bond, J., Thompson, C., Galinsky, E. & Prottas, D. (2003). Highlights of the national study of the changing workforce. New York: Families & Work Institute.