Everything begins with a single voice or a single need. In the business world, the same premise applies only many times the voices and needs are often just beneath the surface. Not any longer. Last week, I was both an attendee and an honoree at the WorldatWork Alliance for Work-Life Progress' annual conference in Arizona. What started several months ago as a nomination grew into a recognition and award as one of their 2012 "Rising Stars" for work-life contributions in a relatively new area -- providing supports and services to employees with children from kindergarten through college transition diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders, ADD/ADHD, learning disabilities, and other "hidden differences." Not a new need but one that has been flying under the radar...until now.
It was an honor to be recognized by my peers in the work-life community, most of whom are driving change in their organizations by raising the volume about the increasingly complex needs of their workforces. Work-life leaders from many of our largest companies were in attendance -- Johnson & Johnson, Metlife, Marriott, and KPMG...to name a few. There were work-life leaders from academia and health care as well as other industries. Discussions revolved around new programs being developed, research underway, and the reasons why work-life professionals need a "seat at the table" when broad business issues are being discussed.
I vividly recall many years ago when the issue of lactation rooms was discussed in hushed tones and never in the C-suite. When flexible work options were "offered" to only a select few as managers believed that they could not manage an employee working remotely plus they assumed that if flexibility was offered to one, every employee would request the same...and then what. As the commercial from years ago said, "We've come a long way baby."
The needs of today's workforce are as varied as they are complex. Employees are facing a plethora of work-life issues ranging from child and elder care to retirement and exceptional caregiving, each impacting their health, wellness, finances, and families (immediate and extended) as well as their productivity and engagement on the job. Understanding these needs and programming for them while working to educate management about the necessities of work-life integration is nothing short of a herculean task. Yet every one of the work-life professionals who attended last week's conference is tackling this task with intelligence, grace, and yes...humor.
It's fair to say that being recognized by your peers is a true professional accomplishment and one that holds real significance. It's also fair to say that it embeds a new level of responsibility in us for ensuring that the needs of this fast-growing segment of the workforce are met. One of the researchers at the conference indicated that 14% of the workforce is raising children with disabilities -- a staggering number of employees.
The business world may take a little time to recognize emerging employee issues and needs but when it does, the results can be stunning. Being with colleagues whose focus is solely work-life reinforced what I already knew to be true -- it only takes one voice to start a choir and this choir is definitely singing in harmony.