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Sloan Center News

Director Comments on White House Forum

15 April 2010—Signaling that improving the 21st century workplace is critical to the US economic recovery, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama hosted the White House Forum on Workplace Flexibility late last month, with Sloan Center on Aging & Work Director Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes among the experts in attendance.

At the forum—which included labor leaders, CEOs, small business owners and policy experts—the President and First Lady discussed the importance of creating workplace practices that allow America's working men and women to meet the demands of their jobs without sacrificing the needs of their families.

"It was both a pleasure and an honor to attend, but also a humbling experience in that the President and First Lady expressed an interest in something we've been working on for a while," said Pitt-Catsouphes, an associate professor in the Graduate School of Social Work.

Workplace flexibility has been a focal point for policy makers for the past 15 years, with a growing body of research from think tanks like the Sloan Center on Aging & Work highlighting the need for a number of innovative approaches to the contemporary workplace.

Opening the forum, Michelle Obama spoke about the importance of creating workplaces that allow workers to balance job and family.

Working from home, or another remote location, changes in start and quit times, options like phased retirement and other issues are now common in a world-wide workplace increasingly linked technologically, not so much geographically.

"Globalization has led to a 24/7 schedule," said Pitt-Catsouphes, who has published on work-life issues for more than 20 years and was awarded the Work Life Legacy Award from the Families and Work Institute in 2007. "So some people can work remotely. It's in the strategic interests of employers as well as being a good fit with the priorities and lifestyle choices people are making."

Following the White House event, the Obama administration will take the discussion to cities across the country, Pitt-Catsouphes said. At the Sloan Center, researchers are now conducting the global Generations of Talent Study, which is examining how employees use the flexible workplace in different countries.

Pitt-Catsouphes said it is crucial to develop a critical mass of businesses on an industry-by-industry basis that embrace workplace flexibility.

"Business leaders are a critical stakeholder group. They will be the ones who make a decision on whether to adopt flexible workplace provisions and whether they are put in place in a meaningful way," she said. "A critical factor that makes a difference in whether employers adopt these policies is whether they see it as a competitive advantage. They are competing with companies within their same industry sector for individuals who have certain competencies or talents they need.

"If two or three or 10 leading employers adopt workplace flexibility, then it is likely that many others in that sector will follow."

by Ed Hayward, Chronicle Staff