The National Partnership was pleased to be invited to participate in the National Dialogue on Workplace Flexibility in smaller businesses, sponsored by the White House and U.S. Department of Labor in Dallas, Texas last month. This event was the first of four National Dialogue on Workplace Flexibility events, scheduled for 2010 and 2011. Next up is a regional event in Atlanta next week focused on workplace flexibility in the health care industry.
Speaking to an audience of business leaders, government officials, workers and advocates, former IBM executive and work-life expert Ted Childs called for a national commitment to workplace flexibility. Childs likened this imperative to President Kennedy's commitment to send a man to the moon. What we need, he said, is a "game-changer" that would boost our nation's competitiveness by recognizing the value of workers on the job and at home.
Access to basic flexibility would be a "game-changer" for millions of workers as well. Quantitative data and findings from a discussion group of Dallas workers convened by the National Partnership and Family Values @ Work demonstrate once again that there are huge gaps in access to paid sick time and other types of flexibility across businesses and even among employees within the same business. Today, nearly 40 million private-sector workers lack a single paid sick day to use when they are ill, and millions more lack sick time that can be used to care for a sick child.
We also know that offering flexibility makes business sense and could be a "game-changer" for business bottom lines. Data from the Families and Work Institute has consistently shown that workers with higher rates of access to flexibility are more engaged at work, more satisfied with their jobs, and less inclined to look for new jobs—leading to higher productivity and reduced turnover. Our own review of existing literature shows that offering paid sick days saves businesses money by reducing presenteeism, reducing workplace contagion and increasing worker retention. And offering paid family and medical leave breeds worker loyalty and reduces costs associated with turnover.
As Labor Secretary Hilda Solis wrote in the Dallas Morning News recently, "Government has a role to play." The Secretary went on to cite the Healthy Families Act an example of a public policy we need. And, at the Dallas forum, she said she hopes the National Dialogue events will allow the Department of Labor to collect evidence that leads to the development of local, state and national policies that address workplace flexibility.
We applaud the forward-thinking businesses that attended the DOL event for leading the way in adopting both basic and more innovative workplace policies. We ask them to partner with government to help design public policies that will enable all workers to enjoy basic flexibility in the workplace.
Designing public policies for the 21st century workplace would be a "game changer" for all of us, creating stronger workers, stronger families, stronger communities and—yes—stronger bottom lines.