As the election cycle ramps up, issues like poverty and socio-economic inequality are getting a little more (but not enough) coverage in the news cycle. The state of the economy and ability to make a living is important – and the current status of the average American worker … isn’t great right now. And along with articles about not getting paid sick days, or that average job wages in America are dismally low, I’ve noticed a bunch of articles cropping up about vacation time and flexible work schedules. I can’t help but think these issues are related.
There’s no doubt that it’s tough being underemployed or underpaid. From Barbara Ehrenreich’s classic book Nickel and Dimed to Joseph Stiglitz’s newer The Price of Inequality and just about every health care debate, the lower and middle class are getting squeezed. As a generalization, things are generally getting somewhat harder overall to live the American dream.
Still, I was kind of taken back by the negative reaction to articles about people actually taking their vacation time or the work-life balance desires of millennials. With all the controversy Ann-Marie Slaughter’s article in the Atlantic whipped up, the one thing most people seemed to agree upon was that we do need workplace practices that are more flexible, whether to accommodate for families, chronic illness, or passion for hobbies or part-time jobs.
From unpaid sick days to unpaid maternity leave to rigid schedules, the business world could be a little kinder to the realities of living. For those of us who have paid sick days, try this experiment: Take your take home pay, divide by 10 to get your per pay per day, and then figure out what your financial status this month would be if you got the flu, missed 3 days of work, and didn’t get paid. I’d be in a tough spot. And maternity leave … well that’s a whole another series of posts.
It’s obvious that we have somewhat speeded up the world, increased our ability to communicate, and compressed geographic barriers thanks to technology. No real arguments there. How we do work has changed dramatically over the last few decades.
So why is the idea of telework or compressed schedules or even taking a vacation met with an accusation of being a slacker? In a tougher global economy, why do ideas that reduce turnover and overhead get met with such hostility? People may not work if they are not if the office, but there are plenty of people who go to work and don’t do very much too. If a business can’t tell what or when someone is producing, there are some bigger problems that need to be sorted out.
And if a company can’t pay someone more, why not make it more comfortable or give people more control over their work or environment? I would take a significant pay cut to work from home on my own schedule, but I wouldn’t make that switch if I lost my healthcare coverage. Other people might do the opposite. Employers should be figuring out what they can offer to employees, and finding people who want what they are offering. I think this is one way to reduce costs and be competitive.
I have a friend who recently started a family, and she chose to work for a boutique firm in her field because she was able to work out of her home. She could work for a bigger firm and get a bigger check, but saving time on the commute is partly what makes her childcare affordable. Quality of life is a big part of how people make decisions. My friend is getting a better work-life balance, and the employer is getting a more experienced hire than usual at that pay range.
Recently a study claimed that many seniors die with less than $10,000 in assets – basically close to broke. So we might as well take our vacation. The interesting thing to look at will be if the millennials continue to implement these changes as they take over management positions from the baby boomers.