It’s not your grandpa’s workplace anymore, but if you listen to the presidential and congressional candidates, it’s easy to wonder if they’re aware that it’s 2012, not 1972. This is especially true for issues related to work and life in a modern, hectic, global, high-tech world.
Addressing these issues isn’t “nice, but non-urgent.” They directly impact the economic growth agenda that the candidates say is their primary focus. Productivity and innovation can’t happen without considering the reality people face on and off the job.
Now, I’m not saying government can solve all of the challenges. In fact, employers and individuals also need to act and think differently if we are going to construct a new model of prosperity for all. But public policy plays a role and must catch up.
I don’t know exactly what that looks like, but we need to start a serious debate grounded in today’s world. Here are the six present-day work and life questions I wish every candidate for president and Congress would acknowledge. Doing so would let voters know that at least they understand the issues exist.
Questions #1 and #2: Who is going to care for the aging population? How are caregivers supposed to provide that care while working, and how are they supposed to pay for it?
If there’s one issue looming on the horizon that’s going to slam full force into businesses of all sizes and their employees (men and women), it’s eldercare. In terms of who will provide care, it’s not going to be a current or former stay-at-home parent or spouse:
- First, most parents work for pay. A new study by the Center for American Progress found that, “in 2010, among families with children, 49% were headed by two working parents and 26% by a single parent.” In other words, only 29% of children have a stay-at-home parent.
- Second, we can’t assume that stay-at-home parents want to become primary eldercare providers. It is a very different and, in many ways, more difficult type of care.
- Third, today, “more than 50% of U.S. residents are single, nearly a third of all households have just one resident…By 2000, 62% of the widowed elderly lived alone.” In other words, in many cases, there is no one else in a household to provide direct, local care. And that trend is growing.
Employers aren’t dealing with the reality at all. In fact, according to a new study by the National Alliance for Caregiving, only 9% of employers offered referrals for eldercare in 2011, down from 22% in 2007.
And, individuals are equally as unprepared. According to Denise Brown, founder of Caregiving.com, most people believe Medicare will pay for and provide care, which is not true. As a result, families don’t plan or budget and are overwhelmed financially, physically, and emotionally. This makes it very difficult, if not impossible, for a growing number of men and women to fully contribute at work.
Question #3: How are you going to support and promote greater work flexibility?
Work flexibility offers many benefits to businesses and people. After almost two decades in the trenches working with organizations and individuals, I don’t believe the government can mandate flexibility. Each business and each person is too different for a one-size-fits-all approach to flexibility to succeed. However, there are issues the government can address that stand in the way of progress: (Click here for more on FastCompany.com)
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