What is work? Why do we work? How is work valued? These questions are fundamental to any human society. Without a written record, we cannot know with certainty how the earliest humans thought about work, but the importance of sharing food and other resources means that prehistoric work embodied at least an element of serving a community's needs rather than just the needs of an individual and his or her immediate family.
Last month I had the pleasure of attending and presenting my work at two stimulating conferences. Interestingly, a prominent speaker at each conference echoed a similar theme--that is, scholars of work and those interested in the well-being of workers and their families need to pay attention not only to rise of job insecurity, but also to the interplay with the rise of family insecurity.
Almost a year ago I blogged about my participation in a University of Minnesota conference on "Creating Public Value in a Multi-Sector, Shared-Power World" ("Implicit Public Values and the Creation of Public Value: The Importance of Work and the Contested Role of Labor Unions"). My conference paper has been going through the review process for a special issue of Public Administration Review. The referees all pushed me to take a stronger stand. Here is my new conclusion.
Last week I had the pleasure of giving a keynote address at a program on "Strengthening Democracy at Work: The Promise of Employee Voice" organized by Andrew Timming and sponsored by the Scottish Universities Insight Institute. The theme of my talk was "The (Potential) Benefits of Employee Voice." To adequately assess the benefits of voice, it is important to avoid the common trap of narrowly defining voice simply as a complaint mechanism. Rather, employee voice should be seen more broadly as expressing opinions and having meaningful input into work-related decision-making.
An initiative was launched this week to include a ballot measure for San Francisco voters that would give caregivers and parents a right to request a flexible work schedule from their employers ("Family friendly SF? New measure would pioneer flexible work rules"). Employers would only be allowed to deny such requests if they posed an "undue hardship" for the company such as an increase in costs or a "detrimental effect on the ability to meet customer or client demands." According to the San Francisco Appeal, "the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce is already voicing opposition to the proposal because of its potential impact to the city's business community." But this type of flexible approach can provide a good model for balancing the needs and interests of employers and employees.