Work Environments that Work for Families

Written by MOTHERS volunteer Kelly Coyle DiNorcia (ahimsamama.blogspot.com)

Before I became a mother, I spent long hours in the office. I probably logged sixty or seventy hours a week as an administrator for a non-profit organization on average – during busy times it was more than that and less during the slower months. When I became pregnant with my daughter, I notified my employer right away so we would have time to formulate a plan for my maternity leave and beyond. Generously, I was given sixteen weeks fully paid leave (during which time I continued to perform a few essential tasks, perhaps three or four hours’ worth of work each week) and was set up with a full office at home from which I work almost exclusively.

The truth is, if I had not been given this degree of flexibility and freedom I probably would have left my job. It would have put a financial strain on my family, but I wanted to be home with my children – and still do, almost five years and a son later. My husband also has a flexible work arrangement with the same organization, so although he travels frequently and works strange hours, he is often home during the day to handle meals and naps and transportation so I can continue to be a productive employee from the comfort of my home office, without missing any runny noses or important milestones.

According to Lisa Belkin’s Motherlode blog, Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson, authors of Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It: No Schedules, No Meetings, No Joke–the Simple Change That Can Make Your Job Terrific, have coined a term to describe this work arrangement: ROWE, or Results-Only Work Environment. They successfully instituted ROWE at Best Buy headquarters before leaving to start a company called Culture Rx (I LOVE that name!) with the mission of bringing ROWE to employers everywhere.

Seems like such a simple concept, doesn’t it? In an age of Blackberrys and iPhones, Google Docs and teleconferences, why should it matter where you are as long as you get the work done? Why can corporate executives manage to run huge companies as they travel around the globe, while caregivers are denied the opportunity to work from their homes?

Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that ROWE raises worker productivity, retention and satisfaction. While some might argue that the current economic downturn is all the motivation workers need to show up, work hard, and smile (because they’re happy to have any job at all), Ressler and Thompson argue otherwise. In an environment where people are being asked to do more with less, and employers are not in a position to reward loyalty and productivity with a pay raise, ROWE may be just what the doctor ordered for our ailing economy in addition to being a huge step towards valuing the diverse roles of caregivers in our society.

About Valerie Young

Valerie Young is a public policy analyst who focuses on the economic status of mothers and other family caregivers. She promotes social justice by arming mothers with information and a healthy dose of outrage. She is the Advocacy Coordinator at the National Association of Mothers' Centers, and is a reporter for The Shriver Report and contributor to Brain/Child Magazine. Follow her blog, Your (Wo)Man in Washington, on Twitter @WomanInDC and on Facebook as Valerie Young and Your (Wo)Man in Washington.
  • GoodReason

    This looks like a great book–can't wait to read it!! I appreciate being informed of it.

    The Achilles heel, of course, is for those jobs where the results have to happen in the workplace itself–like being a cashier at Wal-Mart. I hope that this book can speak to those jobs as well, for not all jobs are the type described in the blogpost.

  • Kelly Coyle DiNorcia

    Certainly, there are lots of jobs for which ROWE would not work – teachers, hairdressers, physicians, cashiers – as you said, jobs that require people to be present at work. Those jobs require a whole other constellation of solutions, such as flexible time, paid leave, and affordable quality child care. So much to be done to make the workplace family-friendly!!!