Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Forum Report: Work-Life Balance

Work-Life Balance: A Matter of Policy and Philosophy
Policy and attitudes related to balancing work with quality of life were the focus of the Russell Forum for Civic Life in Georgia’s December informal Forum on Friday afternoon. Led by new moderators Monica Pereira and Pat Priest, the group of 12 participants used the Lattice Group’s deliberative issue guide to consider three approaches to achieving a work life balance.

Moderators Pat Priest (left) and Monica Pereira (right)
Before the group tackled each approach they talked generally about the issue and their relationship to it. There was a wide range of ages in the forum group and this diversity was reflected in participant’s attitudes about the challenges of balancing work and life. Younger twenty-somethings who were either single or in relationships that didn’t include children felt that often definitions of life balance were too narrowly defined around childcare and family issues in American society. Some of the older forum participants reflected on experiences and expectations from their earlier working lives when it was more typical for workers to achieve acclaim in their jobs by working long hours and always putting work before family.

Other areas of early reflection were the impact of women in the workforce and the consideration of an international perspective -- thinking about policies in place in European countries regarding vacation time. Rounding out the initial discussion, one forum participant commented that she felt that discussion of this topic in the midst of all the economic turmoil the country faces feels almost like a luxury since so many people aren’t balancing work with life, but are struggling to balance their personal relationships and family connections with the time and energy and emotionally draining challenge of unemployment and economic hardship.

Informed by this historical and geographic overview of the issue, and chastened by the harsh reality of the economic times, the group moved to consider the three approaches:

Approach 1: Balance is Unrealistic: This approach argues that to maintain the United States’ competitive edge, worker productivity must remain the most important goal, and as such, people should develop realistic priorities even if it means difficult choices between work and family.

Approach 2: Balance is Good for Business: This approach argues that implementing policies that help workers achieve better work life balance is actually a good business strategy. Proponents of this approach site studies that show that flexible work life policies improve productivity increase the pool of competent workers and retain good workers over time.

Approach 3: Balance is a Social Responsibility:
Proponents of this approach argue that the current work-life model is bad for American families and perpetuates gender-based inequalities. The government plays a role in this approach by providing, mandating, and enforcing paid maternity and paternity leave, paid sick leave, and public childcare.

The conversation was rich and the group grappled with the tensions in each of the approaches. Great consideration was given to what people were best and least served by each solution - from corporations to small business owners, service industry employees to white collar workers. For a full report on the deliberative discussion at this forum, click HERE or on the image of our moderators above.

Mark your calendars for our next informal forum on Friday January 15, 2010 from 3:00-4:30PM at the Russell Library -- the topic: "The New Challenges of American Immigration: What Should We Do?" For more information call (706) 542-5788 or visit http://www.libs.uga.edu/russell/rfclg/ The dates for all of our upcoming forums can be found on the Russell Forum Training and Program Calendar.

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