Work-Life Balance

A lot is written about the fact that we in the U.S. have the lowest amount of paid time off from our jobs than any of the other developed countries.  But not much is happening here to change that.

With the time that workers now spend in one job trending downward, the amount of vacation time they get is reduced as well, since vacation allowances are typically connected to service time with that employer.

China, one of our main economic competitors (and the target of a current trade war with the U.S.), has for some time cultured a “996” workweek for tech company employees: 12 hour days, 6 days a week. That to me is the definition of a “workaholic”.  In the U.S. there is a common belief that you need a balance in your life between work time and personal time.  That is especially true if you have children to raise.   It’s different if you are a small business owner or a key player in a start-up. But people in those situations have made the choice to accept that they will sacrifice free-time for monetary rewards.

A 2010 survey by SHRM, as reported in the SHRM article, “Survey: Work/Life Balance Off-Kilter in U.S.”, indicates that 89% of the workers surveyed feel that this is a problem in the U.S. But the trend has been to require more and more from workers (which increases productivity, assumedly), and the current historically low unemployment rates mean that this will continue (fewer available workers for the work to be done). And vacation time, paid or unpaid, will continue to be hard to come by.

What is the answer? Early in the 20th century it was growth in union organizing. If workers here continue to be dissatisfied that may again be the result.  There are also several states that mandate leaves of absence for workers to deal with personal and family issues (according to abetterbalance.org , there are seven states currently with such laws), which exceed the requirements of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)).  Improvements/enhancements to the FMLA itself have been contemplated by federal lawmakers (the Family And Medical Insurance Leave Act, known as the FAMILY Act was introduced in Congress in February 2017).

Certainly the “996” approach is not going to take root here in the U.S.  But it also may mean that to stay competitive in the world market the pendulum cannot swing too far in the other direction. What is clear is that attention needs to be paid to this difficult issue.




“Retiring” Retirement

I recently facilitated a session for Osher Lifelong Learning (OLLI) in Prescott AZ entitled “Retiring Retirement”, based mainly on a TED Talk by Jan Allen (“Retiring Retirement: A Personal Upgrade for the 3rd 3rd”), but also drawing from the book The 100 Year Life by Linda Gratton and Andrew Scott.

Here are a couple of my takeaways from that session:

  • According to a 2016 McKinsey Global Institute report, by 2022 those 65 and older are projected to make up 36% of the US workforce. We “boomers” are working longer, well past the typical retirement age of 65 that our parents were used to (which was based on average life expectancy of 61).
  • We are living longer now, many to age 100 or beyond. A gift of more time in our lives. Our later years are changing from a destination to a continuing journey.

Marc Freedman, the founder of Encore.org and contributor to The Upside of Aging by Paul H. Irving, talks about “rethinking the patio life”. He wonders if fishing, golfing, sitting around the patio (“recreation”) can sustain us physically, emotionally and intellectually throughout our extended life periods. Or do we need continued purpose, engagement, stimulation and challenges (“re-creation”)?

Of those people that I have encountered that are “retired” and push-back on the idea of “retiring retirement”, it is usually the case that they have actually engaged in post-retirement activities beyond “leisure” activities, such as volunteering with non-profit organizations, supporting political or civic causes, giving back to their communities. They have found ways to add value, to make a difference; a purpose for their lives going forward that is more than just a “job”.

The plan for this extended period of life will be different for each of us; one size does not fit all. But common elements of the plan probably include (1) staying engaged, (2) staying active, and (3) finding your continued purpose in life, the value that you bring to others.

Covid 19

It seems that the Covid 19 pandemic is forcing many employers to rethink how they conduct business, especially in the retail, foodservice and hospitality sectors. We see businesses adding order on-line and pick-up from curb-side service or delivered to your home.  Drive through window services (e.g. banks, pharmacies, beverage stores) that already existed are seeing longer lines. Sonic fast food is ahead of the curve with their car-hop/serve you in your car design.

On-line purchasing/delivery to your home is not new, but I believe the pandemic is going to speed-up the migration towards the closure of brick and mortar retail/food service establishments. The big boxes have already been moving in that direction; this will get them moving faster.

What does this mean for employment? More jobs in distribution facilities, both skilled and unskilled. More delivery car/truck driver jobs. More vending machine repair techs. More on-line customer service jobs (which can be performed from home).  Direct contact customer service/sales jobs will start to disappear; waiters/waitresses, store clerks, store managers store salespeople.  Even auto sales jobs are being replaced by self-service options (e.g. Carvana, Autotrader, etc.).

This world-wide health crisis is a wake-up call for business,  government and consumers. Change is certain to result, and probably faster than it would have occurred otherwise.


Update – Telecommuting is becoming a more accepted option by Employers in the post-pandemic workplace

An article released by the Detroit AP indicates that Ford Motor Company has notified 30,000 world-wide employees that they can continue to work from home, indefinitely. They will be expected to come into their normal office location for group meetings and project work best suited to face-to-face interaction. The article postulates that this is a clear signal that the COVID pandemic has speeded up “a cultural shift in Americans’ work lives by erasing any stigma around remote work and encouraging the adoption of technology that enables it.”

In my experience in the HR field, employers were typically unwilling to commit to a telecommuting work structure other than for jobs which required a significant amount of travel away from the existing office locations (e.g. outside sales, equipment maintenance, over-the-road truck drivers to name a few). It is still not a feasible plan for many workers outside of those in professional and technical jobs, and jobs that do not require direct customer interface. However, as the nature of work changes with advancing technologies, I believe that employers will be more likely to shift to remote work options to reduce cost and attract new talent.

Retirement Benefits in the Gig Economy

Glancing through a newsletter that I recently received from an investment advisor, I happened upon the following article:

From the July/August 2020 issue of In The Know issued by the Nye Financial Group

This summarizes the problem for the 50+ workforce pretty well. Through the non-profit EncoreNEO that I am involved with we are presenting the option of freelancing and self-employment as a solution to the difficulty that this group has in finding traditional employment. One of the topics we cover is financial solutions for the freelancers/self-employed.

I have found the following books to be helpful in providing an overview of this topic: The Gig Is Up by Olga Mizrahi (Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2018); The Gig Economy by Diane Mulcahy (American Management Association, 2017); The Freelancer’s Bible by Sara Horowitz (Workman Publishing, 2012).

The Gig Is Up: Thrive in the Gig Economy, Where Old Jobs Are Obsolete and Freelancing Is the Future

More to come on this subject, including potential legislative changes to assist self-employed workers to deal with the issue of obtaining these benefits outside of the traditional employer-provided environment. Watch for the next post.