How have workforce demographics changed in recent decades?
Today, women and men now make up equal percentages of the workplace. 70% of children grow up in a family with both parents working. Nearly one in four adults is providing elder care. And yet the expectations and structure of our workplace continue to follow rules designed for a completely different demographic.
It’s no surprise that working wives, mothers, and female caregivers, certainly, are struggling to conform to a workplace mindset that doesn’t fit with the practical realities of their daily demands. Nearly 4 in 10 are the primary breadwinners in their families, and 40% of children born in 2007 had an unmarried mother.
But men have families too. 85% of working men live with spouses or partners, children, parents or other family members. They are working the same number of hours now as they ever have (47 per week), but also report spending more time with their children (3 hours per workday in 2008 vs. 1.8 in 1977), and more time on household tasks (2.3 hours per workday in 2008 vs. 1.2 hours in 1977), than ever before. Is it any wonder that in a 2011 study by Families and Work Institute, 60% of them report feeling work/family conflict?
Add to the mix that neither men nor women have federal protections for paid sick leave or parental leave, and the conflict becomes all the more apparent.
How can we adapt to get the best out of our changing workforce?
Working families need a new workplace model that is designed with their requirements in mind. Mothers and fathers both need more flexibility in work hours and work location. In the 21st century, no worker should have to choose between doing a job well and taking care of a family member. That doesn’t mean that everyone can necessarily always “have it all,” but it does mean we should do everything we can to remove arbitrary barriers that have no value or relevance in the modern world.
Stigmas also need to change. Even when workers have flexible options available to them, men are far less likely to use them than women for the legitimate fear of making a poor impression (whereas women risk making that impression because they don’t feel they have another option). Flexibility is not a benefit. It’s a necessity. Given the realities of the modern workforce demographic, our current model is unsustainable.
And why should these changes be limited to workers with families? 40% of women over age 25 are unmarried, and working women are delaying marriage and motherhood until their 30s and 40s. Shouldn’t single people be afforded the same opportunities to be more productive workers as those married with children?