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How Do We Make Jobs More Sustainable?

Posted By Edie Goldberg, E.L. Goldberg & Associates, Tuesday, November 08, 2011
We are not talking about being green. Jobs today are still built on a 1950’s model when men were the primary breadwinners of the family and women stayed at home to take care of the household and family. In fact, in the 1950’s 63% of households still maintained this traditional family structure. Male employees from a traditional family structure could focus all of their energy and time into work because someone else was paying attention to the needs of the family and maintaining a household. This has helped shape the expectations we have in the workplace of how dedicated employees should be to their careers if they want to advance to high-level positions in the organization. In fact, executives—both men and women-- at the highest levels of organizations today devote a significant amount of their time to work related activities.

However, today this family model is less and less common. In fact, in today’s workplace only 17% of households still reflect the traditional structure. With the rise of single parent homes and dual-career couples, the needs of employees have shifted dramatically.  Thus the level of worker dedication that has been traditionally expected in order to "get ahead” is practically impossible for employees today who have to juggle both work and life on a regular basis.  Whether it is about managing one’s personal affairs, engaging in leisure activities, volunteer activities, raising children, or managing elder care, our personal lives are placing a great deal of time demands on us.

A great deal of research has looked into the unique needs of women as they try to juggle the demands of work and family that are often imposed upon them. Reading through the literature on why women seem to "opt out” of the workforce at some point in their career leads to some interesting conclusions. Mostly, that women are not "opting out,” they are in fact writing their own deal and going into non-traditional work environments that provide them with more control over their time. In fact, women lead the way in terms of entrepreneurs who are starting their own business. Being a business owner is by no means dropping out.  It is simply finding a different way to weave together women’s work and personal lives.

Women today are simply the canary in the coal mine. The changing attitudes of employees in the workplace mean that people – both men and women - no longer want to give their entire life to their career. They are seeking ways to find more balance. However, today many employees complain about doing the work of 2-3 people after organizational downsizing efforts have been completed. So as we look forward to the looming talent shortage, we must ask, "What is it that organizations can do to attract and retain the needed talent?” How do we make jobs more sustainable so that employees will want to work for corporations?

What’s your idea for a new way forward that creates a more sustainable workforce?

Tags:  HR challenges  HRM  HRPS  human resources management  sustainable workforce  talent management 

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Comments on this post...

David L. Miller says...
Posted Tuesday, November 08, 2011
Edie, this is a growing problem, and one that is not likely to go away. Are there companies out there which are being innovative in responding to this issue? Would our colleagues in HRPS know who those companies are? What can HRPS do to move this conversation along? Perhaps there could be session on this topic at the 2012 Global Conference or at the 2012 Fall Forum.
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Edie Goldberg says...
Posted Wednesday, November 30, 2011
David - Thanks for your comments. I am currently working with colleagues to develop some approaches to dealing with this challenge. However, I have not yet come across any organizations aggressively tackling this issue. If members of our HRPS community out there are working on this, I would love to hear from you. Perhaps we can create this as a rountable discussion topic for the global conference to leverage the collective wisdom and experience of our network to solve this critical business issue.
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