Dependent Care Assistance Programs and Women in Senior Management, 1988

Activity Description:

This is a powerpoint slide of a graph that represents the percentage of companies offering dependent care assistance programs who have women in senior management positions in 1998.  Click on the document called, “DCA_Powerpoint2.ppt” at the end of this entry.

Activity Source:

Galinsky, E., & Bond, J.T. (1998). Business work-life study: A sourcebook. New York, NY: Families and Work Institute. Page xii.

Activity Links to Materials:

DCA_Powerpoint2 (2)

Diary about the Self

Activity Description:


To explore your definition of self


  1. For 30 days, keep a journal that focuses on “who you are.”
  2. Each day, prepare a journal entry. For 15 – 20 minutes, describe some experiences that occurred that day and consider their impact on your self-definition.
  3. At the end of the month, summarize your conclusions. Consider how your journal entries pertain (or could pertain) to work-family issues. Relate the content of your journal to identity theory.

Activity Source:

Content contributed by Don Forsyth as a Suggested Work and Family Class Activity 

Dual-Earner Couples’ Adjustments to Work and Family Role Strain

Activity Description:


One core concern in the study of work and family is identifying the strains experienced by working couples and linking these concerns to work and family policy. Kathleen Christensen and Ralph Gomory (1999) describe this as the 3:2 problem, the difficulties two people face when they try to manage three jobs (two in the workplace and one in the home). Studies indicate that families are increasingly abandoning the male breadwinner and female homemaker template, creating a time squeeze in which role expectations overshadow couple’s time resources (Clarkberg and Moen 2001; Moen and Sweet 2003).

For those in the labor force and managing families, these concerns are apparent and instructors can launch directly into discussions of policy. However, for undergraduate students, who are still anticipating what work and family lives will be like, there is less understanding of the degree of strain created by conflicting work and family roles.

This exercise is designed to address this concern, teaching undergraduate students to identify cultural expectations for the parent role and the worker role, and the degree to which these expectations create role conflicts. The exercises last 25 minutes, and discussion 25 minutes.


Step 1:  Identify the Cultural Expectations for the Ideal Parent (10 minutes)

Using the template (click on the document at the end of this entry called, “actrss.pdf” to view and download template in PDF format), have students work individually to identify the core values that our culture holds toward parenting, focusing their analysis in consideration of a parent caring for two young children. E.g., parents should be nurturing, parents should teach and socialize children, parents should keep children nourished and safe, etc. (column 1). Then for each core value, students identify the corresponding behaviors that a parent should perform. E.g., families should eat dinner together, parents should cook good meals, parents should read kids bedtime stories (column 2). Next students identify the time commitment, measured in hours per day, needed to accomplish each of these goals (column 3), and to sum the total number of hours required to be an ideal parent. Finally, students identify if any activities require a specific scheduled block of time. E.g., if ideal parents clothe, feed, and send kids off to school, that will require them to be in the home from 6:30-8:30 am.

Step 2: Identify the Cultural Expectations for the Ideal Employee (10 minutes).

Students should consider the career they plan on entering following college. As all students will likely strive for professional careers, coach them that typically employees in these types of jobs are expected to work between 45-50 hours per week. Replicate the same process outlined above. Students first identify the cultural ideals of the ideal employee (e.g., committed, dependable, etc.), the corresponding behaviors (e.g., put in long hours, adhere to schedules, be willing to travel), the time commitments associated (e.g., hours per work day), and if the ideal employee in their profession will need any schedule considerations.

Step 3: Synthesize analyses (5 minutes).

Have students sum the total number of hours committed to parenting and working report the sum total of time it takes to fulfill worker and parent roles. E.g., if they say being an ideal parent takes 8 hours and an ideal worker takes 8 hours, they should report to you 16 hours. List these hours on the board as students state them. Likely most students will report that the ideal worker and the ideal parent requires a commitment of 16-20 hours per day.

Discussion (25 minutes):

Ask: What do we learn by this exercise?

Students quickly recognize that it is impossible for individuals to perform work and family roles in correspondence with cultural ideals of what is expected of working parents. Students should also recognize that this study only looks at two roles, that of worker and parent, and need to be considerate of the other roles people are obligated to fulfill, such as spouse, friend, and community member roles. It also ignores the need for personal time for exercise, hobbies and sleep.

Ask: Do you identify any strains in terms of parenting and employee schedules?

Students will likely recognize that parenting will often intrude on the ability to perform business trips, to come into work early, to be able to stay late at work, to put in long hours. This opens a good opportunity to discuss the gendered nature of the “ideal employee” as outlined in Joan William’s ( 2000) book Unbending Gender, that the ideal employee is an employee that can work according to the standards of the male breadwinner template.

Ask: Given these strains, how do you think couples respond?

Students will likely conclude that couples will likely need to relinquish responsibilities associated with other role comments. Giving up sleep, curtailing friendships, time with their partner, etc. These conclusions and the social costs can be supported and linked to by research such as Arlie Hochschild’s (1989) The Second Shift, and Robert Putnam’s (2000) Bowling Alone, and others.

Beyond relinquishing other roles, the instructor can highlight a number of less obvious practices here, including:

  • Delaying having children and deciding to forego having children (Altucher and Williams 2003).
  • Scaling back on work hours, and the normative pattern for dual career couples to adopt neotraditional arrangements (Becker and Moen 1999; Moen and Sweet 2003).<
  • Strategies of structuring alternate schedules, so that husbands and wives “tag team,” such as the wife working night shifts (Garey 1999).

This exercise is designed for a 50 minute class. However, if longer class time is available, instructors may want to bridge directly into policy concerns, focusing on organizational and governmental responses.

Activity Source:

Content contributed by Stephen Sweet as a Suggested Work and Family Class Activity

Activity Links to Materials:

Teaching Activity Role Strain


Effective Diversity, Understanding Employee Needs and Employer Advantage

Activity Description:

Author: Cynthia Ozeki, California State University Dominguez Hills

Purpose: To help students think about what employees from different groups need from their managers and organizations to be effective, and the advantages of hiring and supporting them.  This exercise was developed for use in a human resource management course but could be adapted to many other types of classes.


1) Introduction: discuss the way the workforce is changing, with white males who have a full-time spouse at home being replaced by working mothers and fathers, people in dual-career relationships, people with eldercare responsibilities and workers with different racial and ethnic backgrounds.  Explain that this presents both challenges and opportunities for employers.

2) Divide the students into small groups.  In a diverse class, students can be asked to choose a group that they identify with. In a less diverse class with mainly young, single students you may wish to assign students to adopt the perspective of a group they don’t necessarily belong to.  Groups may include:

  • eldercare givers
  • parents of children under 12
  • parents of teens and older 4
  • those in dual-career relationships without children
  • age under 25
  • age over 50
  • working women
  • grew up speaking language other than English
  • other strong ethnic/racial identity (fit to groups represented in class and/or community)

3) Ask the each group to think about the type of people they have been assigned.

  • What do they need?  What kinds of support would they like from their managers and organizations?  What benefits, policies, and management approaches would they find most helpful?
  • What can they add to the organization that should make employers want to provide that support?  What special skills, knowledge, or attributes do they have?

4) Have each group report back to the class, and list their responses to those two topics on the board.  Compare the needs and advantages that are presented. Usually, students representing ALL groups will say that flexibility, understanding and respect are important to them.  They also usually recognize that employees who have strong outside relationships and commitments to family tend to have good people skills and a sense of responsibility at work, as well.  Workers from different groups also bring new perspectives that may help an organization understand new types of potential customers.

5) Highlight conclusions: Having a diverse set of workers does present challenges, but hiring those workers and supporting them can bring benefits for employers.

Activity Source:

Content contributed by Cynthia Ozeki as a Suggested Work and Family Class Activity

Activity Links to Materials:

Effective_Diversity (1)

Enforcement Guidance: Unlawful Disparate Treatment of Workers with Caregiving Responsibilities

Activity Description:
The EEOC’s enforcement guidelines regarding handling FRD in the workplace, created by the Title VII/EPA/ADEA Division, Office of Legal Counsel.

To access this resource, visit:

For more information about this organization, visit:

Activity Source:
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (2007, May 23). Enforcement guidance: Unlawful disparate treatment of workers with caregiving responsibilities, in E.E.O.C. Compliance Manual, 2, § 615. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from:

Evaluating the Concept of Ritual in Work Contexts

Activity Description:


To grapple with the question, “How helpful is the classic anthropological literature on ritual to the cultural analysis of modern workplaces and work-family transitions?”


McLeod’s (1990) critique of the literature on corporate rituals might be usefully paired with Trice, 1985 or Trice & Beyer, 1985, perhaps supplemented by the introduction to the Moore & Meyerhoff volume Secular Ritual(1977).


Similarly, Victor Turner’s classic essay on rites of passage (Turner 1967) might be paired with one of the essays it helped inspired, such as Rosen and Astley’s (1988) imaginative analysis of a Christmas party at an advertising firm.


Citing Turner’s (1967:95) dictum, “ritual is transformative, ceremony confirmatory,” McLeod finds ludicrous Martin and Siehl’s (1983) symbolic interactionist definition of ritual (largely inspired by Goffman, 1959) as a repeated formalized or patterned sequence of events, such as the standard practice of a retinue of company subordinates meeting a CEO at the office. For McLeod, such activities, though repetitive and conventionalized, lack the deeply obligatory, transformative, and consciousness-altering qualities of ritual in the strictest sense.

Do students agree or disagree with this critique?

In class discussion or in essays, they might debate the precise points of difference and commonality between, for instance, Ndembu rituals of initiation and modern corporate ceremonies of hiring and firing.

Would it be helpful to speak a spectrum of ritualization in the workplace, from highly ritualized to less ritualized actions?

Students might consider why so many family-style rites and ceremonies (such as Halloween, Christmas and Birthday parties) have been incorporated into modern workplaces. Do these symbolic practices help to produce (and not simply express) “virtual families” at work?

More advanced students might ponder Terrence Turner’s reformulation of Van Gennep’s model of rites of passage in the Secular Ritual volume.

Can this revised model be usefully applied to the symbolic management of status transition in modern work contexts (as discussed in Trice,1985; Harris & Sutton, 1986, or Berg, 1985)? Are models of transitory ritual also relevant to the analysis of movement between work and family domains: is for example the morning or evening commute comparable to classic pilgrimage, as analyzed by Victor Turner?

Activity Source:

Suggestion submitted by Mark Auslander, Brandeis University.

Examining Rights of Passage

Activity Description:


To encourage students to reflect on the connections between rites of passage and family transitions


  1. Ask students to read Victor Turner’s now classic essay, “Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites de Passage”(in The Forest of Symbols). This is a helpful point of departure for discussing rituals of life transition in comparative perspective.
  2. Students might be asked in class to reflect on a rite of passage with which they are very familiar, such as a graduation ceremony, and then consider if the ritual exhibits the tripartite structure described by Van Gennep and Turner. Particular attention might be given the fascinating ‘liminal period’ when initiates are neither one thing nor another (neither student nor graduate, neither fiancé nor married person what precisely signals the beginning and end of this anomalous, interstitial stage. (For instance, Naval Academy graduates are dramatically reintegrated into ordinary life when they cast their caps into the air.)
  3. It might be helpful to diagram out the standard wedding rite or funeral rite on a chalkboard, and have students discuss precisely where each stage commences and concludes, as well as which symbols are “polyvocal” and where and why they are deployed. Which components of the traditional rite can be deleted or altered with little impact, and which ones seem to be fairly fixed or invariant. Why should this be the case? Huntington and Metcalfe’s excellent “American Deathways”, the final chapter of their Celebrations of Death, reviews the symbolism of the modern American funeral process. Many students avidly discuss the practical and symbolic implications of embalming, open caskets, and cremation.
  4. John Gillis’ rich and engaging historical study of American family rituals helps to ‘denaturalize’ these seemingly timeless ceremonies, demonstrating that their emergence was historically embedded in broader shifts in gender, kinship, sexuality and class relations. Although the book as a whole is a marvelous read, if time is short any one of the later chapters could be assigned on its own, so that the class can concentrate on one symbolic complex, such as weddings, death, motherhood or the home. If the death and funerals are being extensively discussed, a field trip to an old cemetery might be in order, so students can track for themselves changing styles in memorialization and family groupings. Gillis does not directly discuss Schneider’s symbolic analysis of American kinship, but Schneider and Gillis might be profitably taught together: to what extent do the various rites historically explored by Gillis manifest the categorical contrast between blood and law discussed by Schneider?
  5. Alternately, Gillis might be paired with Turner’s classic “Planes of Classification” essay in The Ritual Process. Turner demonstrates that Ndembu healing rituals dramatize and mediate the contradictory social principles of matrilineal descent and virilocal residence; students might consider if the American domestic rites discussed by Gillis comparably mediate contradictory principles in American family structure.

Activity Source:

Content contributed by Mark Auslander as a Suggested Work and Family Class Activity

Exploring Sex and Gender Roles

Activity Description:


To identify the differences between sex and gender, and how these roles affect work and family.


  1. Ask students to list characteristics (traits and behaviors) of the ideal worker in American culture, and write their answers on a flip chart sheet. When finished put the list aside.
  2. Write the words “sex” and “gender” on the board. Ask students to define and explain the difference between these two words.  
  3. Ask the students to identify characteristics and behaviors of idealized masculinity (i.e. what type of masculinity is reinforced by our society). Write answers on flip chart sheet.  
  4. Repeat Step 3, using characteristics and behaviors of idealized femininity
  5. Place lists on the board, on either side of the sex and gender definitions.
  6. On the board where you have written the categories of sex and gender, draw a solid line between female and feminine and male and masculine. Ask students how girls generally learn femininity and how boys learn masculinity.
  7. On the board where you have written the categories of sex and gender, draw a dotted line between female and masculine. Ask students what happens if a female is masculine.
  8. Repeat Step 7, by drawing the dotted line between male and feminine.
  9. Have students create “ideal wife/mother” and “ideal husband/father” lists on board.
  10. Hang the list of “ideal worker characteristics and behaviors” in the space in the middle, over the top of the sex and gender definitions.
  11. In small groups, have students discuss the following questions:
  12. • What do you notice about the feminine list versus the ideal worker list?
  13. • What do you notice about the masculine list versus the ideal worker list?
  14. • What do our lists have to do with careers?
  15. • What do our lists say about the pay gap between men and women?
  16. • What do our lists say about the glass ceiling?
  17. Have each group share their answers with the class.
  18. In small groups, have students discuss the following questions:
  19. • How easy is it for women to get economic power in this gendered system?
  20. • How easy is it for mothers to get economic power in this gendered system?
  21. • What do our lists have to do with careers?
  22. • What about men who want to know and nurture their children or elderly parents?
  23. • How does this affect you?…make you feel as a man?…as a woman?

OPTIONAL: Give students copies of the handout “definitions” (available for download in MS Word format). Go over the definitions in the handout. Ask students why they think the gender differences exist. Discuss explanatory theories from biological determinism to social constructionism and explanations in between.

Activity Source:

Content contributed by Teresa Rothausen as a Suggested Work and Family Class Activity

Fair Labor Standards Act: Drafting a Proposal for Compensatory Time under the FLSA

Activity Description:


To conduct a critical analysis of the existing provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act


  1. Log onto the website for the Department of Labor. Locate the page for the FLSA document; or download the statute directly from:
  2. Select one or more provisions of the legislation.
  3. Consider the positive and negative consequences of the provision for different types of employers (e.g., workplaces of different sizes, business in different industries, etc.).
  4. Consider the positive and negative consequences of the provision for different types of employees (e.g., employees holding different types of positions, employees with different types of family responsibilities).
  5. Propose at least one change in the FLSA to reflect your analysis.

Activity Source:

Content contributed by Carol Nowicki, as a Suggested Work and Family Class Activity

Family and Medical Leave Act

Activity Description:


To determine from both the standpoint of a small business employer and from the standpoint of an employee whether the leave should be expanded to include paid leave or whether employers should have more discretion in granting or denying leave



  1. Log onto the website for the Department of Labor. Locate the page for the FMLA statute:
  2. (This URL should lead you directly to the FMLA page on the website of the U.S. Dept. of Labor. If it does not, go to and follow the links to the ESA [Employment Standards Administration] page and follow the links on that page to the FMLA information.)
  3. Consider the following factual situation: Irma Gutierrez started a house cleaning business eight years ago. The reputation of House Engineers-R-Us, for excellent service, reliability and competitive pricing has meant continued growth for Gutierrez’s business. She is now considering expanding her business, by doubling the workforce, in order to begin bidding on the lucrative office cleaning and maintenance business. However, Gutierrez is concerned that the expansion of her business will bring her within the FMLA and will mean she will have to grant leave to employees whenever they request it. Since hers is a labor intensive business she is concerned that the FMLA will prevent her from maintaining a stable workforce. Gutierrez’s business is located in a state where there is not a state FMLA.
  4. Outline specific points about the FMLA that could assuage Gutierrez’s concerns about the FMLA. Are there any concerns that could be valid? How could she handle these concerns?
  5. As a successful small business owner, Ms. Gutierrez has been asked to testify before a committee of the state legislature, about the impact of the FMLA on small businesses. The legislators are considering the passage of a state FMLA. As a small business owner, what might be Gutierrez’s concerns about a state FMLA?

Activity Source:

Content contributed by Carol F. Nowicki as a Suggested Work and Family Class Activity

Family Panels to Build a Sociological Perspective on Work-Family Connections

Activity Description:

Authors: Michael Gortari, Erik Schwinger, Rebecca M. Thomas, and Clayton D. Peoples, University of Nevada, Reno


The relationship between work and family is crucial, and conveying this is one of the key tasks of teaching sociological perspectives on the family. But conveying this reality can be difficult given that directly demonstrating family life situations in the classroom is very difficult. In this paper, we describe an exercise that brings work/family situations into the classroom indirectly via a “family panel” of guest speakers trained in sociology talking openly about their own families. We expound upon a recent family panel we conducted, and evaluate its effectiveness. We find the panel is a positive learning experience for students and makes themes/concepts related to the crucial work/family connection more real and understandable.


The dynamic interplay between work and family is undeniably important. From the spillover of work stress into family life to the balancing of family and work responsibilities, the linkages between work and family are immutably significant. In fact, some argue that conveying the reality that work and family are inseparable is a critical task of teaching sociological perspectives on the family (e.g. Baca Zinn and Eitzen 1988). But accomplishing this task can be difficult given that directly demonstrating family life situations in the classroom is very difficult (Gunter 1974).

In this paper, we describe an exercise that brings work/family situations into the classroom indirectly via a “family panel” of guest speakers trained in sociology talking openly about their own families. After a brief review of the literature, we describe the exercise in some detail, providing illustrative work/family quotes from a recent panel we conducted. We then discuss the pros and cons of the exercise. Finally, we conclude by discussing the panel’s effectiveness and relevance for teaching about the work/family connection.


The relationship between work and family is crucial. One of the many characteristics of this crucial relationship is that it is far-reaching, often both intra- and intergenerational in its impact. The examples noted in the introduction carry both intra- and intergenerational importance—spillover can significantly affect both intimate and parent/child relationships; and parents are often concerned with balancing time with their children and the demands of work. Other examples of the work/family connection are similarly far-reaching. For instance, the well-documented effect of work structure on values is both intra- and intergenerational in impact, as work-derived values are both shared with contemporaries and passed down to the next generation (Kohn 1969).

While the relationship between work and family is clearly important, it is often under-recognized by those who are less familiar with the sociological perspective. This is likely the motivation behind calls for making the work/family connection a central theme of sociological portrayals of the family in the classroom (e.g. Baca Zinn and Eitzen 1988). But how to do so is a key question. A number of techniques have been developed to help accomplish this goal.

One technique involves utilizing the family experiences of students. For instance, Kerckoff and Baytala (1969) propose conducting surveys of the family situations of students at the beginning of a term, and then using those survey results later to highlight key points such as the work/family connection. Herald, Eastwood, Empringham, Gall, and McKendry (1973) recommend having students in the class serve as discussion leaders on different family-related topics, sharing their experiences. And Aminoff (1995) suggests the usage of detailed family histories to help students better understand their own family situations. While all of these exercises are likely helpful, they are somewhat restrictive in that they rely solely on the experiences of the students.

Another technique involves bringing outside family situations to students. But while literally exposing students to a real family situation in the classroom may be ideal, this is difficult as noted earlier. As such, some have attempted to do so indirectly. For example, Cosbey (1997) and Hall (2000) both argue for the use, and subsequent critique, of fiction novels in family sociology courses. Smarden and Margosian (1973) suggest conducting critical content analyses of magazines. Yet all of these exercises may be limited in making family situations more real given they are based on magazines and fiction. An alternative approach would be to expose students to real family situations outside the classroom. Gunter (1974) proposes sending students out to the community to spend time with a family. While likely very useful, such an exercise may not be feasible, and may be limited in its ability to relay a sociological perspective on the families observed. In this paper, we forward an exercise that (1) indirectly brings work/family situations into the classroom and (2) has a sociological perspective essentially built in.

The Exercise:

In our exercise, we gather a “family panel” of guest speakers who are all trained in sociology, and have them come speak openly in a given class session about their own family situations. Recent work praises the use of panels in the sociology classroom. For instance, Kubal, Meyler, Stone, and Mauney (2003) suggest that the diversity brought into the classroom by panels is rewarding for many students. Moreover, Crone (1997) shows that panels stimulate student involvement in class, motivate instructors, and reinforce material already covered in class. We therefore feel confident that our panel provides these general benefits in addition to illustrating the work/family connection.

For our panel, the number of panelists is not necessarily a set figure, and is partially contingent upon the how many volunteer to participate (but at least two or three participants would make it a ‘panel’ and provide some diversity). To put together our panel, we send out an e-mail announcement to at the beginning of the term to all sociology graduate students and/or faculty, describing the panel and requesting their participation. We generally receive good response to our e-mail requests (although we do recognize that in exceptionally small departments, getting enough panelists within the sociology department may be more difficult, but can likely still be done by calling on the participation of colleagues in related fields and/or advanced undergraduates).

We typically do not request that panelists discuss the work/family relationship, specifically, but, instead, prefer to keep our request open-ended to allow panelists to discuss whatever they feel comfortable discussing. It is our implicit assumption that among a group of sociologists the work/family relationship will emerge as one of the key themes of their family narratives. This assumption is inevitably confirmed. For instance, in a recent panel, which we will qualitatively expound shortly, the fifty-five minute session yielded over forty references to various facets of the work/family connection.

In terms of the structure of the panel session, while this is up to the individual instructor(s), we typically allow a set amount of time for each panelist to speak, permit a few questions directly after each speaker, and then open it up for more questions at the end, concluding by summarizing the ways in which key sociological views on the family (such as the centrality of the work/family connection) emerged in the panel.

Qualitative Expounding of a Panel:

The particular panel we expound upon here was composed of three graduate students. Two of the students are single, male sociology MA students in their twenties. The third panelist is a single mother and social psychology PhD student in her forties. These three panelists are from working class families. Their fathers were/are employed as an iron miner, a railroad worker, and a rehabilitation assistant in a psychiatric center; the mother of one of the panelists was diagnosed with a disease and was not employed, one died while the panelist was young, and one worked in hospital admission. A recurring theme in this panel was the intergenerational impact of the work patterns of the panelists’ parents on their familial relationships, roles, and values. Another key theme was the balancing of work and family responsibilities.

Two of the three panelists had split-shifting parents. One discussed split-shifting in a nuclear family situation: “I [got] home…whenever school [let] out; then, my father [got] home shortly thereafter, my mom [took] off for work and my dad [was] responsible for cooking us dinner, etc.” Another panelist noted split-shifting within a multi-generational extended family situation: “My grandfather was a bricklayer, [he] worked like 7-4…my grandma waited [tables] in the nighttime, so she would cook us dinner and put it all in foil and he would come home, she would go to work and then he would heat it up and feed us….”

The work patterns of the panelists’ parents affected their familial relationships and the roles the panelists adopted in their lives. For example, as noted above, one panelist’s father took on a homemaking role during the evenings by cooking, and the panelist noted that this pattern has continued in his own life. “I’ve lived with two girlfriends in the past… in both of those relationships I was the one doing the cooking every night.” Another panelist recalled assuming the caretaker role at a young age due to her mother’s illness and her father’s heavy work load. “I actually remember missing school to go to…functions to serve as [my younger sister’s] parent because my mom couldn’t go and my dad was working.”

The intergenerational transfer of work- and class-related values was exhibited in several instances during this panel exercise. For instance, one panelist recollected that she always wanted to become a college professor, but she lamented, “I was never encouraged to do that and there was much this expectation that when I got out of high school, I would get married and have kids.” She blamed this for delaying her entry into higher education. Another panelist noted pressure from his family to embrace working-class values and work ethic. He recounted his father telling him, “You don’t need to love your job, you don’t need to do something that’s going to make you happy, you need to do something that’s going to pay your bills, and be there in ten years as a job, in twenty years as a job.” The panelist noted that this pressure continues due to the fact that he is still in school and working part time. He said his family often asks him, “When are you going to get a job?”

The balancing of work and family responsibilities also emerged as a key theme in this panel. For instance, a student directed a question toward one of the panelists related to this theme, asking, “How do you balance, even now, school and kids?” The panelist’s response highlighted this balancing act well, answering, “The truth of it is…you get up every day and you do it. There are days when you’re exhausted, and days when you do a really good job and you are proud of yourself, and days when you worry about how the electric bill is going to get paid.”

Evaluation of Exercise:

We believe this exercise was effective. It certainly facilitated lively discussion. On over 35 occasions during the panel, students posed insightful questions and comments on topics such as the effect of work on family relations and roles. Our observation was that students showed a genuine interest in the discussion and were able to relate the experiences of the panel members to topics covered in class. But to further examine the effectiveness of the exercise, we conducted an evaluation.

At the end of the panel, the students we gave the students anonymous evaluation forms to complete. The first five questions asked students to rate the experience from 1 to 4, strongly disagree to strongly agree. An additional 3 open-ended questions allowed students to express any likes, dislikes and to evaluate how effective they felt the panel was in helping them learn about families in new or different ways. The final question gave students the opportunity to provide any additional comments about the panel.

Overall, students found the panel helpful in making “family situations more real” to them: 92% of students agreed or strongly agreed on this point. Around 96% said the family panel helped them “better understand some of the family situations in the text,” and 92% agreed or strongly agreed that the family panel was a “learning experience” for them.

The open ended questions corresponded well with the answers given in the scale questions. When asked what they disliked about the panel, a few students noted a lack of racial and economic diversity in the panel (all panelists were white and came from either working class or poor backgrounds), with one student commenting, “I wish we had a more diverse panel as far as income situations go….” Most students, however, said there was nothing they disliked about the panel.

When asked to evaluate the effectiveness of the panel in helping them learn about new or different family situations, the most frequently cited response was that it made family situations more “real.” One student commented, “It was a great ‘hands on’ way of looking at peoples real life situations…,” and another, “It was good to have a concrete situation which we were able to see how specific families work and how they vary.” Students also mentioned that it made them start looking at their own family situations and how that relates to who they are today, with one student stating, “I always like to hear about other people’s experiences…and it even made me start analyzing my own family.”

When asked to evaluate how effective the panel was in helping them learn about family situations already covered in class, the student consensus was that it was effective, and that terms and themes from class made more sense to them now that they had a concrete reference point. For instance, students noted familiar concepts that emerged in the panel such as “split-shifting,” “conformity,” “traditional family “gender roles,” “poverty,” and “working class.” And one student remarked, “[The panel] helped to be able to recognize [concepts] in real life families.”


In conclusion, we feel putting together a “family panel” of people trained in sociology to talk about their own family situations is an effective way of bringing real family situations to the students (at least indirectly) and building a sociological perspective on the family. And it is clear that important themes—particularly the critical work/family connection—emerge from such panels, enriching students’ knowledge and understanding of the dynamic interplay between work and family in both intra- and intergenerational forms. Moreover, and perhaps most importantly, based on our evaluation of the particular panel expounded in this paper, students themselves overwhelmingly agree that family panels make family situations more real, help them better understand material, and make for an overall good learning experience. We therefore highly recommend using a family panel exercise to reinforce sociological themes/concepts and make the crucial work/family connection more real and understandable.


Aminoff, Susan M. 1995. “The Family History Exercise: Developing Positive Awareness in Culturally Diverse College Classrooms.” Teaching Sociology 23:155-8.

Baca Zinn, Maxine and Stanley Eitzen. 1988. “Transforming the Sociology of the Family: New Directions for Teachings and Texts.” Teaching Sociology 16:180-4.

Cosbey, Janet. 1997. “Using Contemporary Fiction to Teach Family Issues.” Teaching Sociology 25:227-33.

Crone, James A. 1997. “Using Panel Debates to Increase Student Involvement in the Introductory Sociology Class.” Teaching Sociology 25:214-8.

Gunter, B. G. 1974. “Using Volunteer Families in Teaching Family Sociology.” The Family Coordinator 23:261-7.

Hall, Kelley J. 2000. “Putting the Pieces Together: Using Jane Smiley’s ‘A Thousand Acres’ in Sociology of Families.” Teaching Sociology 28:370-78.

Herald, Edward S., Janice Eastwood, Charlotte Empringham, Beverly Gall, and Shirley McKendry. 1973. “Human Sexuality: A Student Taught Course.” The Family Coordinator 22:183-6.

Kerckhoff, Richard K. and Sandra P. Baytala. 1969. “Classroom Research as a Teaching Method in Family Life Education.” The Family Coordinator 18:14-21.

Kohn, Melvin L. 1969. Class and Conformity: A Study in Values. Homewood, IL: Dorsey Press.

Kubal, Timothy, Deanna Meyler, Rosalie Torres Stone, and Teelyn T. Mauney. 2003.

“Teaching Diversity and Learning Outcomes: Bringing Lived Experience into the Classroom.” Teaching Sociology 31:441-55.

Smarden, Lawrence E. and Arthur H. Margosian. 1973. “Marriage in Magazines.” The Family Coordinator 22:177-82.

Activity Source:

Sweet, Stephen, Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, Joshua Mumm, Judith Casey, and Christina Matz. 2006. Teaching Work and Family: Strategies, Activities, and Syllabi. Washington DC: American Sociological Association.

Family Policies: Recommendations for Government

Activity Description:


This exercise is designed to have students consider, and recommend, sufficient resources that might be introduced in family leave legislation, and to do so in a manner that may sway opinions.


Students are presented with the following assignment:

You have been called as an “expert” on the family to address the Canadian Parliament (or the United States Congress, your choice) about the current state of the Canadian (or American) family.  You are to write a short, 8-10 page (double-spaced) briefing. This paper might focus upon a particular issue that you see as especially salient (e.g., reproductive technologies). With this approach, you might delve in-depth into the topic, illuminating for the government some of its various complexities.  Alternatively, you might cover a variety of issues such as childrearing, divorce and domestic violence, providing politicians with a broader overview. You should draw upon course materials to “brief” the government, but you should also do outside research to enrich your briefing. The bulk of this brief – 6-8 pages – should be devoted to summarizing the “social facts” and your interpretations of them for politicians.  In the remaining 1-2 pages, you should conclude with a few recommendations to the government as to what kinds of action(s) you believe it should take (or perhaps not take) in order to improve the contemporary circumstances of families in Canada (or the United States). Importantly, these are to be realistic recommendations. For instance, recommending that the United States government reallocate significant funds from its defense budget to provide families with a childcare allowance is, unfortunately, not a realistic recommendation.  However, you might suggest that the United States government legislate that employers pay workers a portion of their wages during leaves from work for the following reasons:

for the birth and care of the newborn child of the employee; for placement with the employee of a son or daughter for adoption or foster care; to care for an immediate family member (spouse, child, or parent) with a serious health condition; or to take medical leave when the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition.

Presently, under the Family and Medical Leave Act (of 1993) in the United States, employers must grant eligible employees up to twelve weeks of UNPAID leave for these reasons.  In Canada, the Universal Child Benefit, recently initiated, provides $100 per child (under age six) per month to Canadian families. You might, for example, recommend that this benefit be extended to children older than six years of age to assist with the costs of afterschool care.  In formulating your recommendations you should do a bit of background research on existing legislation (Note: The Internet should prove sufficient for this).

Importantly, this is meant to capture the attention of government officials, NOT put them to sleep!  So, you want to write an engaging, catchy and informative piece, not one that is boring or overly-academic (e.g., so bogged down with details that it confuses the audience).  Moreover, remember that you are the expert and they are not. Therefore, you need to explain your points rather than assuming that they know.

Activity Source:

Content contributed by Elaine Weiner as a Suggested Work and Family Class Activity

Family-Friendly Policies

Activity Description:


To identify the emphasis that different companies place on family-friendly policies


  • Have students attend a job fair and collect brochures from several companies representing different sectors (e.g. manufacturing, communications, insurance, medical).
  • Examine the brochures and identify each company that touts some form of family-friendly policy (flex-time, telecommuting, child care, sick family leave).
  • Identify the percent of companies that tout family-friendly values and benefits.
  • Identify company attributes which appear to be related to the advertisement of family-friendly benefits (e.g. size, sector, gender of CEO).
  • Have students discuss whether family-friendly policies are important to them when they search for a job and, if so, which are most important.

Activity Source:

Content contributed by Patricia V. Roehling and Phyllis Moen as a Suggested Work and Family Class Activity

Fashion and Adornment at Work

Activity Description:

Purpose: Appreciating mini-rituals of self-presentation at work and along the work-family frontier


Students are nearly always fascinated with the semiotic complexities of the fashion system. Terry Turner’s marvelous ethnographic essay “The Social Skin” (1980), on central Amazonian adornment, might be usefully paired with selections from Rubinstein’s Dress Codes (1995) or Lurie (1981), such as their discussions of uniforms or the clothing challenges faced by women executives, perhaps supplemented by Brook’s (2000) tongue-in-cheek but often insightful discussion of the lifestyle and consumption patterns of the new “meritocratic” elite.

In interviews, close attention might be given to how clothing signals and mediates transitions between home and family domains. How do workers distinguish between their “work look” and their “non-work look”? What actions (taking off a tie, putting on slippers, etc.) signal to a person that he or she has “returned home”?

Students might be encouraged to develop a portfolio on workplace clothing, drawing on women’s and men’s magazines, apparel catalogues and other mass media sources (including internet chat rooms on office and work clothing). Particular attention might be given to clothing choices that foreground work-family tensions (such as maternity clothes for women professionals) These portfolios might be the object of small group discussion or critical essays.

Activity Source:

Suggestion submitted by Mark Auslander, Brandeis University

Father Involvement Research Alliance

Activity Description:

This packet not only introduces the Father Involvement Research Alliance, a “national partnership building with researchers, practitioners, policy makers and fathers,” but also serves to address the needs and concerns of different populations of fathers in regard to caretaking.

For more information on the Father Involvement Research Alliance, visit

Activity Source:

FIRA: Father Involvement Research Alliance. (n.d.). Guelph, Ontario: University of Guelph. Retrieved July 21, 2009, from

Field Observations on the Intersection of Work and Family

Activity Description:

Author: Susan Cody-Rydzewski, LaGrange College

Type: Observation / Note-taking


In order for undergraduate students to understand the overlap and competing demands of work and family, it may be useful to have them observe the intersection of work and family roles firsthand. One way to do this is to have them visit places in which parents (and children) must confront the demands of work and family obligations simultaneously.

In order to avoid IRB restrictions, students should choose a location that is accessible to the public and where observations can take place unobtrusively. I have found the following two locations to be most ideal for purposes of this assignment: laundromats and grocery stores. Observing in these locations will help students to see what often becomes invisible or not regarded as work – unpaid work. This assignment will also highlight issues of social class, gender inequality, and parent/child interactions.


Have students choose one or the other location and conduct a number of observations there over the course of a semester, preferably around the same time each day and on the same day each week. Students may want to select one or two families to observe each time.

In observing and note-taking, students should pay close attention to the following:

  1. Describe the location you have selected in terms of where it is situated (suburbs, inner city, rural area, etc.) as well as its appearance and environment (clean, quiet, noisy, dirty, crowded, well-lit, etc.). Describe the family arrangements or groupings that you see most frequently (mother and children; mother alone; father and children; elder and child, etc.) Identify family members who are most commonly present and those who are most commonly absent from these routines. Also, estimate the length of time each family was present in the store or laundromat. Note the time of day you observed.
  2. Estimate the approximate ages of the individuals you observe. About how old are the children? In what ways do the ages of the children make the experience (of shopping or laundering) more challenging?
  3. How many children are present with parents/caregivers? In what ways does the number of children help or hinder the experience?
  4. Describe the interactions between adults and children. Can you be sure they are family members? If so, how? Would you describe the interactions as warm, friendly, caring, nurturing, or cool, impersonal, and abrupt? Describe the affect of the individuals you are observing. Do they seem tired, annoyed, calm, neutral, disinterested, excited, etc.?
  5. If there are multiple children, do the children interact with and entertain each other? Or, does the parent/caregiver engage the child(ren)? How do the interactions among children differ from those between adults and children (or between adults and other adults)? Do the adults ignore, tolerate, or engage the children during the encounter?
  6. Estimate the approximate social class of the families you observe. What indications of social class do you observe? Does the nature of the interactions vary by social class? If so, how? Comment on how the time of day and/or location may have influenced the demographic profiles of those you are observing.
  7. In your observations, what complications or challenges of combining work and family do you observe? In what ways might these complications be alleviated?
  8. Reflect on how you will (or do) combine the obligations of work and family. How will you juggle these responsibilities? Comment on how your observations in this exercise might influence your choices with regard to marriage, timing of childbearing, family size, career aspirations, etc.

Activity Source:

Sweet, Stephen, Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, Joshua Mumm, Judith Casey, and Christina Matz. 2006. Teaching Work and Family: Strategies, Activities, and Syllabi. Washington DC: American Sociological Association.


Field Study Guidelines for Interviewing Employees and Employers

Activity Description:

Author: Anna Haley-Lock


This assignment serves to frame the issues of the course in the following respects:

  • Exposing you to both employer and employee perspectives in the ways that jobs are designed, rewarded, and otherwise supported-including challenges and opportunities that employers face in these efforts, and the ways that these efforts translate for the lives of workers.
  • Revealing variation in the ways that jobs are designed, rewarded and supported•within the same major metropolitan area (local labor market), as well as within the same industry, and for potentially the same job title. In addition, by hearing the findings from groups assigned to other industries, you will be able to appreciate cross-industry similarities as well as differences in employment conditions and issues facing employers.
  • Working as a diverse, integrated, professional student group.

Arranging Your Interviews:

  • In class, groups will be created and assigned a specific industry (restaurant, retail, grocery). Each member will be assigned to interview either a front-line employee or an employer.
  • Interviewees should be adults (age 18+).
  • Interviewees may be “former,” rather than “current,” employees/employers if approved by an instructor, but you should clearly situate your interview with them in a specific former job and organization.
  • Before contacting your potential interviewees to recruit them, you must supply their names and organizational information to the instructor, who will be keeping a master list of interviews to minimize repeat contacting of people.
  • When you contact your interviewees to recruit and schedule them, you should review the purpose and nature of the interview with them, per the attached “informed consent”-style guidelines. This serves to establish the safest, most equally-footed context in which the two of you discuss their experiences.

Conducting Your Interviews:

  • You are being provided with a structured interview protocol to use as a basic outline for your interviews, but you are free to supplement it with additional questions.
  • Review the attached “informed consent-style” guidelines before you begin the interview.
  • Each interview should take roughly 1 hour (sometimes less, but avoid having it run on much longer as a consideration to your interviewee).

Writing Up Your Interviews Individually, and your Group Findings:

The focus of your writing up of these narratives will be primarily descriptive: to give a sense of the stories shared with you by your interviewees about their experiences with their jobs and their organizations. The format is generally open, but you should consider the following points:

  • Individual Interview: You need to convey the core of the interview completely BUT without “kitchen-sinking.” Don’t simply dump the contents of your discussion onto paper; rather, translate it into a more readable, narrative form. This form might involve a chronology of events, high and low points of the person’s job experience, or other – each interviews may suggest its own written structure.
  • Group Findings: This summary presents themes that emerged across the interviews. You might organize by Employers and Employees. Or you might organize by certain emergent themes, in some cases combining employer and employee perspectives that overlapped. You might organize by points of variation and similarity. Up to your group. Ask yourselves in this task, Across the discussions with people, what points were repeated? What points never came up? What are your initial thoughts about what the themes we have identified-as well as those not found-mean?


Activity Source:

University of Washington ’07 created by Prof. Anna Haley-Lock

Activity Links to Materials:


Films for Use in Work-Family Courses

Activity Description:
The films listed below have been shown in work-family courses.

Activity Source:
The following films are abstracted from Sweet, S., Pitt-Catsouphes, M. (2006). Teaching work and family: Strategies, activities, and syllabi. Washington, DC: American Sociological Association, and syllabi posted on the Sloan Work and Family Network (

Download the PDF:


Flexible Work Arrangements: A Strategic Business Imperative in Any Economy

Activity Description:
This slide presentation defines what Flexible Work Arrangements (FWAs) entail and why they are imperative for businesses, regardless of the state of the economy. The slides go into greater depth about different types of FWAs including flextime, job sharing, telecommuting, and part-time work. It provides data about the benefits of flexibility for both the employer and the employee yet is sure to point out that this type of arrangement is not suitable for all businesses.

Activity Source:
Casey, J. (2009). Flexible work arrangements: A strategic business imperative in any economy. Retrieved from SlideShare:


Activity Description:
To demonstrate how personal situations affect perspectives of flextime

The facilitator poses various scenarios and asks for participant responses. The facilitator can have participants write down their responses or simply think about their responses and share some with the group.

Part I

Ask participants to imagine that they have a full-time job with a “9 to 5” schedule from Monday through Friday. Given the participants’ current life situation and preferences, ask them if it would be beneficial to have the ability to start working anywhere from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. and to adjust the end of the workday accordingly to maintain an eight hour day. (There would not be flexibility available at the midday hours and the next month’s schedule would need to be determined at the end of each month.)
Ask participants how helpful this flextime policy would be given their current life situation. Question the participants on whether or not the flextime policy is flexible enough to meet their needs.
With a diverse group of participants, Part I may be sufficient to demonstrate the differing appeal of flextime given various personal situations. Part II is recommended when the discussion from Part I does not identify the differing appeal of flextime based on various personal situations.

Part II  
1. Ask for volunteers to receive index cards that will change their current life situation. The participants receiving cards should imagine that they have the life situation depicted on the card. How does this alter their preference/need for flextime?

Situations on Cards:

You have a six year old son who gets off the bus at 3:30p.m. Your spouse is available to help your son get to school in the morning, but is unavailable to help in the afternoon.
Your elderly father needs physical therapy three times per week. He is unable to drive or take public transportation to the physical therapy center. You are one person who could drive him there, but the center is only open until 8:00a.m. to 5:30p.m.
You are not a morning person. Even after three cups of coffee, you still are grumpy before 10:00a.m. You try not to schedule meetings before 10:00 because you know that you are not at your peak performance level before that time.
You live in an area where the traffic is very heavy. If you leave your house before 6:30a.m., the drive to work takes ½ hour, but if you leave after 7:00a.m., the drive takes over one hour. You have discussed coming to work early and leaving work early with your coworker, but he is concerned that you would be unavailable to handle any last minutes “crises” that could arise at the end of the day if your schedule was such that you left before 5:00 p.m.
2. Ask participants how helpful this flextime policy would be given the life situation on their card. Question the participants on whether or not the flextime policy is flexible enough to meet their needs.

Activity Source:
Content contributed by MaryAnne Hyland as a Suggested Work and Family Class Activity