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Work-Life 2007 Conference & Exhibition, sponsored by WorldatWork and the Alliance for Work-Life Progress

February 23, 2007
Related Topics: Dependent Care, Employee Engagement, Labor Law, Generations, Diversity, Retention, Featured Article, Technology

Event: Work-Life 2007 Conference & Exhibition, sponsored by WorldatWork and the Alliance for Work-Life Progress

Date: February 21-23, 2007

What: The Work-Life 2007 Conference & Exhibition is described by organizers as "the premier event for professional development in work-life effectiveness." The focus of the conference is on "work-life effectiveness as a critical component of business strategy to attract, motivate and retain top talent."

Where: Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa, Phoenix

Conference Info: For information, go to

Conference Notes, Day 3—Friday, February 23, 2007

Notes on the Conference: This conference is built on a very simple proposition—that policies that help workers better manage their lives can both increase productivity and employee engagement. In short, workers who feel that the company cares about how their home life intersects with their work life are more likely to work harder and better, and stay working for you longer.

The companies that have embraced the work-life concept—like IBM and Discovery Communications—have also found something else: that pay policies only can go so far in attracting good talent and keeping people happy and engaged. For IBM, work-life means developing and implementing global policies that help workers do a better job for the company.

This is going to become more and more critical as the world becomes flatter and the 24-7 work cycle becomes the rule. A strong work-life focus will become as important to an organization as the quarterly metrics.

At IBM, the CEO gets a global work-life report for the company twice a year. Few other companies are that focused on work-life just yet, but the message from this conference was clear: If you aren’t worried about the work-life balance of your employees, you need to be, because it is a key to creating competitive advantage through the attraction and retention of critical talent.

Key Findings About the Aging Workforce: A Friday session on "Work-Life Implications of the Maturing Workforce" presented some noteworthy data gleaned from a survey recently done by WorldatWork, Buck Consultants and Corporate Voices for Working Families. The survey was distributed to all member companies across the three organizations, and 487 of them responded.

About 64 percent of the responses came from organizations with 1,000 or more employees, and 20 percent of the organizations surveyed had at least 20,000 employees. In addition, 66 percent of the respondents were WorldatWork professionals with five to 10 years of HR experience. The top 10 key findings were eye-opening and instructive of the difficulties many businesses and organizations have dealing with the aging workforce:

1. Despite all of the concern about the graying of the workforce, only 20 percent of the companies have surveyed their mature workforce. In other words, 80 percent don’t survey them at all.

2. Only 42 percent of companies believe that the aging-workforce issue is significant, and 23 percent believe the issue has little or no significance.

3. Most companies believe that the loss of mature workers at the senior leadership level is the most significant risk of the aging workforce. Some 41 percent are worried about the loss of midlevel managers, but surprisingly, 53 percent of companies surveyed believe that the aging workforce is not an issue for their company because their workforce will not be retiring in the next five years.

4. Aging workers want to remain in the workforce primarily because of financial reasons. Some 67 percent want to remain for medical benefits, and 44 percent say they want to stay because of the sense of community they feel in the workplace.

5. The most significant strategy for keeping mature workers in the workforce is the use of flexible work schedules—and 48 percent of the companies surveyed say they have done so.

6. More than 50 percent of the organizations surveyed say they do not proactively pursue mature workers when recruiting.

7. Cost increases resulting from the loss of aging workers are perceived as being highly significant.

8. A key issue for most organizations is the preservation of the knowledge of mature workers, and 74 percent of those surveyed feel this is significant.

9. Integrating multiple generations of workers was seen as a very significant business risk by 88 percent of those surveyed.

10. The most utilized knowledge transfer mechanisms are intergenerational work teams and formal mentoring programs. Thirty-two percent of the companies surveyed create multigenerational teams for this very reason, and 31 percent have a formal mentoring program between generations in the workforce.

Jim Sowers, national managing director for HR management at Buck Consultants, said of the study and its focus on the aging workforce, "It’s quite surprising how few businesses and organizations are paying attention to this." The business issue, he said, isn’t people walking out the door, but keeping knowledge that is walking out the door resident in the organization.

Next Year in Philadelphia: In 2008, the work-life conference will be blended with the much larger WorldatWork Total Rewards Conference that is being held at the Philadelphia Convention Center from May 21-24. This year’s WorldatWork Total Rewards Conference will be held in Orlando, Florida, at the Disney Swan and Dolphin Hotels from May 6-9. For details, go

Quote Worth Remembering: From former IBM VP Ted Childs: "We need a movement against 24/7. It must become OK for workers to turn off and unplug."

—John Hollon

Conference Notes, Day 2—Thursday, February 22, 2007

The IBM Effect: There are a number of well-known companies either sponsoring or presenting at this conference—American Express, Wachovia, CVS, GlaxoSmithKline, Discovery Communications—but none seem to dominate the event the way IBM does. As a leader in innovative work-life programs and one of the few companies that does a regular, comprehensive survey of the needs of its global workforce, Big Blue has both great credibility and insight into programs that balance the needs of the company while increasing employee engagement and driving the bottom line.

A morning presentation by three IBM managers on "Work/Life Programs: Growing Demand in Emerging Markets," focused on the six flexible work options the company has developed over the years:

  • A compressed workweek that allows employees to compress their schedule into less than five days.

  • Individualized work schedules that let workers vary their work time plus or minus two hours from the normal schedule.

  • A leave-of-absence policy that allows employees to go on an unpaid leave for an extended period of time.

  • A part-time restricted work schedule that allows employees who are regular workers to have reduced hours and schedules or a job-sharing arrangement.

  • A mobile/telecommuter option for employees who are on the move and don’t need a dedicated work space.

  • A work-at-home option that allows employees to perform regular work at home without a dedicated company work space.

Most of these options are available to IBM employees around the world, subject to local labor laws and regulations. And although ROI is a factor in these options, it is not the sole focus of whether IBM management decides to offer a specific program. As one of the presenters noted, the focus is more on what the employee needs, because that is important for the company to attract and retain workers—to help them stay at IBM so competitors aren’t able to hire them away.

Key Workforce Trends: Anne Weisberg of Deloitte, speaking during a session on "Moving Toward a New Career Paradigm: The Key to Creating Competitive Advantage Through Attraction and Retention of Critical Talent," listed these key workforce trends that have a dramatic impact on the composition of the current and future workforce:

  • A shrinking pool of skilled labor.

  • An increasing number of women in the workforce.

  • Changing family structures.

  • Different expectations of Gen X and Gen Y employees.

  • The changing expectations of men.

  • The impact of technology.

The result of these trends, Weisberg said, is that fewer segments of the workforce will be able or willing to work continuously full-time through the course of their careers. Ultimately, the increasingly nontraditional workforce will require something more than just flexible work arrangements—something more like mass career customization, or MCC, which increases the choices that help workers shape career paths that fit the various stages of their personal lives. It also makes career-building a more explicit, shared responsibility between the organization and the individual.

Deloitte has found that MCC, where it has been implemented, results in more satisfying career conversations, better morale and increased productivity. In addition, Deloitte has found a positive correlation between MCC and retention—a critical need in the current and future workforce.

Conference Buzzword: "Generational diversity." It’s defined as the presence of multiple generations in the workplace. The consensus at the Work-Life Conference is that hiring, promoting and managing generational diversity will be increasingly more important for every workforce manager.

Work-Life Progress Awards: The Alliance for Work-Life Progress used the Thursday lunch to honor three organizations for their innovation and success in work-life effectiveness. The winners are:

Capital Metro Transportation Authority of Austin, Texas, for developing a wellness program that included a 24-hour fitness center coupled with a healthy-options cafeteria and an affordable on-site child care and learning center with flexible hours. The result was a 44 percent drop in absenteeism since 2003, as well as increased morale and employee interaction.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for developing a pilot Trademark Work at Home program for 18 of its attorneys who review trademark applications. The program has been so successful that it now covers more than 220 employees (including 85 percent of examining attorneys) who now perform the majority of their duties at home, increasing quality of life, maximizing productivity and enhancing the agency’s ability to recruit and retain employees.

Massachusetts General Hospital for developing its Be Fit employee wellness program, which has helped 748 employees realize a healthier lifestyle since 2005. The objective of the program is to decrease Massachusetts General’s long-term health insurance expenses by sustaining healthy habits for its workforce.

—John Hollon

Conference Notes, Day 1—Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Conference Overview: The conference newsletter today had a headline that said, "Welcome Work-Life Professionals." I'm not sure what a work-life is professional is, but there are more than 400 of them here in the Arizona desert for this event that is co-sponsored by WorldatWork and the Alliance for Work-Life Progress.

I find one encouraging note in the program guide, where the welcome note from the conference co-chairs talks about how "more professionals understand the integral importance of work-life as a business strategy in supporting efforts to help employees achieve success at both work and home. ... We don’t just help create business success—we also help to improve the lives of millions of workers around the world."

Any conference that talks about business strategy sounds pretty serious and worthwhile. I just hope the lure of the golf course and sunny 70-degree temperatures here in the desert don’t lure too many attendees away from the events at hand.

Keynote Speaker, Day 1: With a late-afternoon start, a good keynote speaker is always a great strategy to jump-start a conference. Today's lead-off hitter is Ted Childs Jr., former IBM vice president of global workforce diversity, and he should have some good stories to tell, given his 39 years working at Big Blue.

Childs’ talk goes right to the heart of this conference—the need for strong work-life strategies that drive higher productivity and engagement by helping employees manage the many different and sometimes conflicting aspects of their lives. This is a topic that might have seemed radical or out of bounds 15 to 20 years ago, but as Childs points out, IBM started to identify these issues and the difficulties they would cause to the workforce way back in the 1970s.

In fact, Childs tells numerous stories from his IBM career that point out how Big Blue was ahead of the curve in not only identifying but in working to solve so many work-life issues that are critical today. He pointed to the three most critical issues managers have to deal with to help workers balance their work-life focus: company culture, dependent care and work flexibility.

And, according to Childs, "work-life programs are tools to deliver better business results, not barriers to attaining results." One surprising result of IBM’s work and study of this is that in 2007, nearly 40 percent of the company's workforce does not work in an IBM office each day. This, he pointed out, not only saves the company money but makes for a more flexible and engaged workforce.

Childs ended his talk by listing the lessons learned from the research and work IBM has done to focus on work-life issues:

  • Consistent, relentless behavior to focus on work-life issues is critical.

  • Focus on doing the right thing for your own workforce culture.

  • Establish a foundation to be driven by opportunities for impactful cultural changes.

  • The goal must be constructive disruption (challenging the current way of thinking).

—John Hollon


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