Commentary: Family friendly workplaces: be careful what you wish for
A few years ago, my wife and I changed propane companies solely because the friendly receptionist had been fired for taking an extended medical leave.
So I can see why the first White House Summit on Working Families (and President Obama's call for legislation and voluntary reforms to give workers greater scheduling flexibility and childcare options) resonates with so many people.
Of course the president faces obstructionists, who view the summit as an election-year ploy and a shameless pandering to female voters. ("I like anything that keeps 'em pregnant, but this would leave 'em way too much money for SHOES.")
Some think we're putting the cart before the horse and need some family-friendly FAMILIES first. ("PLEASE, boss. Can't I have a second shift of dipping toys in lead paint? Aunt Prudence is coming for a visit and I need an excuse to be gone. Did I mention she's bringing her BAGPIPES - to soothe the FERRETS?")
Obama derided the U.S. for being the only developed country that does not offer paid maternity leave. I hope the pursuit of a worthwhile goal does not get all tangled up in "Europe envy."
I hate passports and plane schedules because they give too much advance warning. I wish we could drop in on the progressive Utopia of Europe UNANNOUNCED and see how they really live.
We'd probably hear things like "You children are crazy if you think you're going to drink beer and wine at the dinner table. If this water is good enough to wash your lederhosen, it's good enough to drink."
Or maybe "This job comes with 40 weeks of paid vacation. Of course during that time, you'll have to stand here with your finger in the dike, sort of off the clock..."
Obama's plan could very well unlock the potential of some employees, but others have pretty well maxed out their potential and would just abuse the system. ("What do you mean, I can't telecommute leaning on a shovel? I've got a bad back; can't you assign someone to HELP me steal office supplies? Is it okay if I send a surrogate to photocopy his butt cheeks for me?")
What wrenching changes will come about as we try to make the workplace more responsive to our home conditions? Will the Research & Development department be assigned to find out who left the empty milk carton in the fridge? Will fast-food clerks be encouraged to ask, "You want overpriced holiday wrapping paper with that?"? Will "Take Your Child's Parole Officer To Work" Day become standard?
As a pet owner, I sort of hope that provisions for sick employees, sick children and aging parents are expanded to cover four-legged family members - but it could get interesting. ("You say I'm out of order, judge? No, my collie's WOMB is out of order. That's why I've brought her along to deliver her puppies while I deliver my summation. Let me borrow that robe. The blood won't really show on that black fabric...")
I just wonder if we've really examined the core concept of the new American Dream: all those bright-eyed, healthy, childless workers whose only hope is to endure years of taking up the slack for their co-workers, with the ambition of someday hitting the jackpot. ("What's that, dad? You say your colonoscopy came back clean? Why does everything happen to ME???")
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