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OPTIMISM ON RESTRUCTURING THE WORKPLACE

I am delighted to see that anecdotal observations about younger men have been documented. For the 10 years I have been involved in work/life flexibility through my inter-generational relations work starting with several events I organized in 1999, I have been saying that we won't see marked change until the young men in the workplace speak up about their desire to have the same flexibility for family time as many women have been expressing and acting on for years. (In my role as a consultant - non-threatening to them - male Gen Xers and younger Boomers have been admitting this desire to me for many years.)

Now a new study, entitled “Times Are Changing: Gender and Generation at Work and At Home,”  released (March 26, 2009) by the non-profit Families & Work Institute (New York) finds that the gap between men and women as far as both desire for increased responsibility in their work as well as resolution of work/life conflict has closed. In fact, the study indicated that men of all ages report work-family conflicts at a great rate than women, up 11% since 1977. The ambition of women under age 29, the Gen Y/Millennials, is at least equal whether they are mothers or not. As recently as 2002 only 48% of young working mothers wanted to climb high on the career ladder. Now the study found that 69% of them do, indicating a generational shift in attitudes from Generation X. It also indicated that prejudice against working mothers is easing among both men and women.

The study was a rigorous one, last carried out in 2008 but asking the same questions periodically since 1977. Those people whose own mothers had worked most strongly agreed that working mothers can do just as good a job with their children as those who stay home - proof in the pudding, it seems. And Millennial/Gen Y men spend significantly more time with their children than the generations before them and have taken on more domestic responsibilities.

These data suggest that - at last - there will be more pressure on employers to make career paths more flexible - for all genders and ages.

Of course, the current severe economic pressures are already (temporarily) putting a damper on vocal expression of demands from both Gen Yers and Boomers and may put a lid on accelerated change until things reach a new normal. Optimist that I am, I believe the turmoil we are experiencing will bring opportunities for real change - for example, finally a move away from the broken billable hour model to a results-oriented work evaluations system that is fairer, more efficient and works better for people and their clients.

Please share your thoughts.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot   www.pdcounsel.com

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