- By Jim Emerman
Anne-Marie Slaughter, whose July 2012 Atlantic magazine piece, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, ricocheted around social media, just wrote a buzzy New York Times piece (A Toxic Work World) on how innovation around work and caregiving would be good for women, men and business.
Taking a page from her new book, Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family, she wrote: “The problem is with the workplace, or more precisely, with a workplace designed for the Mad Men era, for Leave It to Beaver families in which one partner does all the work of earning an income and the other partner does all the work of turning that income into care — the care that is indispensable for our children, our sick and disabled, our elderly.”
Work/Life Balance for All Ages
That divide between working and caring Slaughter highlights is, I believe, plaguing the way employers approach the need for work/life balance for people at all life stages.
According to our latest research at Encore.org, people at the tail end of the career path need work/life balance, too.
Like younger families, they also need to balance caregiving with work or volunteering outside of the family. But in this case, the caregiving is about elder care and a commitment to grandchildren. When the places they want to work, however, are only keen to hire and keep people who can work full-time, year-round, they turn away an incredibly valuable resource.
The divide between working and caring is plaguing the way employers approach the need for work/life balance for people at all life stages.
My Work/Life Needs at 65
What a difference a little more creativity in how we fashion work could make.
Case in point: I’m a white 65-year-old man and a living example of the need to balance work and family. A few years ago, my 91-year-old father came to live with us. He needed a lot of care and more socialization than my wife and I could offer, and after a year we found a nearby assisted living facility that offers both.
Even so, the challenges of elder care for us aren’t light — such as medical appointments, regular visits and dealing with the facility itself.
My wife (a retired schoolteacher) and I are also deeply invested as grandparents for our 7- and 4-year old grandchildren, providing after-school care twice a week and taking them for regular Sunday outings and the occasional weekend away from home.
In the last couple of months, I’ve been feeling the pull to give back to the next generation by working with children outside of my immediate family, too. Because we try to walk the walk at Encore.org, my employer has allowed me to cut back my work hours to start a rewarding volunteer gig helping kids with their homework once a week at the amazing 826 Valencia, a nonprofit dedicated to helping children and young adults develop writing skills.
Working with these kids — mostly first-generation Latino-Americans — a few hours a week is totally energizing.
Grateful for My Generous Employer
But my plate is pretty full (often more than full-time) at Encore.org, where I head up our research and oversee some of our most important social innovations, including The Purpose Prize, Encore Fellows and EncoreU. Fortunately, I can usually pull all this off thanks to the generous and flexible policies of my organization (where we recognize that what people contribute is more important than where they do it, and that life is messy and filled with detours).
But there are millions more who yearn for the chance to put their skills and life experience to work in meaningful jobs, give back to their community and handle caregiving duties, but are shut out by a lack of flexibility — really just a shortage of innovative thinking in how our work is organized.
If we can’t make room for this generation of people (and future generations when they reach my age) to balance work and family responsibilities, we risk depriving our society of a remarkable asset.
I guess I do have it all. But my hope is that we can make this kind of encore much more possible for many, many more people. Age and experience are terrible things to waste.
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