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White House Report on Workplace Flexibility Overlooks Encore Workers

A new White House report on workplace flexibility focuses on the needs of young families, reflecting the recent experience of the president and first lady.


Bloggers are enthusiastic about a new report issued by President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers called Work-Life Balance and the Economics of Workplace Flexibility that calls for more flexible work arrangements to meet the needs of American workers. Sadly, the "encore opportunity" is missing from the discussion.

Cali Yost, "expert blogger" for Fast Company, enthuses, "Thank you to the first family and the White House for an important symbolic boost for flexibility."

Stew Friedman of the Wharton Business School blogs on HBR.com, "More than any particular policy initiative or new program announcement, yesterday's session at the White House was a symbolic moment that signified, at last, a new era in which we are really talking and thinking differently about work and its relationship with the rest of our lives."

The report lists the key changes in the U.S. work force that are driving the need for flexibility in the workplace as the larger number of working women, the rising number of employed people serving as caregivers for people over age 50, and the increased demand for more analytical and interactive skills among workers, which requires many people to pursue additional education.

Although the report says "flexibility in the number of hours of work can ease the transition to retirement for older workers," it does not mention that Americans are living longer, that many need to work longer and that their contributions could be extraordinarily beneficial to society.

Clearly, the emphasis is on younger families. Both the president and first lady reflected during a White House forum about how difficult it had been for them to balance work with family obligations.

But there is substantial evidence that flexibility is an important requirement for many experienced workers seeking paid encore careers that give back to society, and recent research predicts that older workers will be needed to help fill an estimated 5 million job openings by 2018.

Fortunately, one blogger definitely understands the encore opportunity. Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, director of the Center for Aging and Work at Boston College, writes, "The aging of the work force urges us to create work environments that support the productivity and engagement of workers of all ages and across all career stages. Study after study indicates that workplace flexibility enhances employee engagement — an outcome that is good for employers and good for employees, as well."

Read the White House blog about the report.

Read the full report.