Success. What does it mean if your family and friendships erode with the increasing long hours you spend trying to fit into the “work harder, work longer” culture of your workplace? There is probably no greater loss than that precious intangible: time with children who grow up so quickly that the golden opportunity to bond is lost.
Do workers feel trapped in the rat race? Certainly, and the irony is that more hours does not 1:1 translate to more productivity. Counterintuitively to the U.S. “more hours” culture is that balance and happiness result in more productivity. Yes, it’s true, it is not how much time you bring to work, but at what level of energy and efficiency. Headline: burned out employees putting in their time are not producing the corresponding expected results.
I just provided a seminar to about 100 practicing California employment attorneys representing both employees and employers. We covered gender discrimination, and the new California “Fair Pay Act.” In the course of preparing for that seminar, the question arose for me as I reviewed the wage disparity charts by industry and years of employment: why do the genders start off about at the same rate of pay, but a gap widens as women age and their careers progress? I have no scientific answers to that complex sociological question, but the blaring message is this: women are being shorted on wages, and it may be due to cultural norms that place the burden of childcare predominately on women.
Women buy into that childcare assumption and so, of course, do men. The assumptions are unconscious and unexamined. Yet, how unnecessary: we are living in a time unlike any other when gender roles can be redefined. Men can spend time raising their children, spending precious time bonding with their infants, and sharing that golden opportunity with their spouses. The truth, I believe, is that fathers want to experience that time with their children, and the idea that they cannot show nurturing care for their infant children is a total lie, and a denial of fathers’ deep need to connect with their infant children. And the family medical leave (and baby bonding) laws allow men the same opportunity to bond as women. But why aren’t men taking that opportunity? The answer, I think, has much to do with a heavy load of cultural expectations and “norms.” Until those norms are brought to consciousness, and critically re-examined, we will just keep repeating ourselves, and women and men, and yes, business itself, will be hobbled in their potential.
The reality for decades is that while political parties talk, economics drive real family choices. Here’s a disturbing chart from “Friedman’s Blog” [Wharton Business School Professor Stewart Friedman [Friedman at Wharton] based on a survey of his Wharton grads:
So, there’s the logical result of a family adverse social system: the cost of kids is too high when you’re strapped for cash, and burdened with student debt. Also, something deeper and darker is operative I assert: the value of fetal human life and the readiness politically to support it as a priority has long been eroding in America since the 1973 decision of Roe v. Wade. [But, an abortion debate is another issue for another time, and not the best topic for a law blog.]
But here is the bottom line: until businesses make childbirth, childcare, and gender equal opportunity selling points to attract the best talent in the labor market, and until business sees that happy employees spending more time with their families are actually more motivated and productive, and yes, more adaptable and innovative, all else is talk. Why can’t business get the message? Well, why do individuals stay stuck in dysfunctional behaviors? Businesses are no different. Change requires both insight and an impetus to change. Smart businesses will move forward with changes to attract and keep the best talent, and produce the most competitive outcomes, without government intervention. Silicon Valley has gotten the message, and is voluntarily shifting. Parental Leave in the Tech World. What about the rest of us? Think about specific doable actions that can make a difference. Go to: Family Values – For Real.