Gender and Race, Work and Public Policy

New Version, No Changes
Activity Description:
A PowerPoint presentation by Mindy Fried, Ph.D. for an American Sociological Association teaching workshop.

Activity Source:
Content contributed by Mindy Fried, Ph.D.

Activity Links to Materials:


Gender, Care Giving and the Ideal Worker

Activity Description:
To start a discussion on students’ perceptions of the “ideal worker” and how gender and care giving responsibilities play into these perceptions. This activity will work best if given as a homework assignment, with results presented in a following class to initiate discussion.  


Step 1: Prep
The instructor should make up at least 4 fictional employees and fill out the following three documents for them, altering gender, care giving responsibilities, and number of children in each.

   1. Employee Information (see attachment 1 below):

You will fill this out with a fictional name
You will determine if this employee is a male or a female
You will determine if the employee is married and/or has children
There are three optional job descriptions given that you can choose from, though you may add or alter any of them.

   2. Performance Report (see attachment 2 below):

This will be used as a consistent variable for all employees.

   3. FMLA Record (see attachment 3 below):

You will fill out this record form.
You will determine the reason for leave and will check off the appropriate box.

Step 2: Class activity

Pass out completed personal records of 4 employees to students at random.
Ask students to read the information provided as if they were in the role of manager within this fictional organization.
After reading the information, the students will rate the employee assigned by filling out the Student Evaluation (see attachment 4 below).
Step 3: Discussion
Lead a discussion based on students’ perceptions of the “ideal worker” and how gender and care giving responsibilities play into these perceptions.

Activity Source:
Activity designed by Sarah Morrison, MSW student at Boston College’s Graduate School of Social Work.
Class activity adapted from:  Wayne, J. H., & Cordeiro, B. L.  (2003). Who is a good organizational citizen?  Social perception of male and female employees who use family leave.  Sex Roles, 49(5-6), 223-246.

Activity Links to Materials:

attachment1 (2)

attachment2 (1)

attachment3 (1)

attachment4 (1)

Gendered Division of Labor

Activity Description:

To illustrate the gendered division of labor within dual-earner couples


1. Each student will interview two couples, one with children in the home and one without children in the home. Students should ask each member of the couple the following:

Please estimate the amount of time that you spent performing housework yesterday. This includes shopping, cooking, cleaning, and home maintenance.

  • Please estimate the amount of time per week that you spend performing housework. This includes shopping, cooking, cleaning, and home maintenance.
  • Please estimate the amount of time per week that your spouse spends performing housework. This includes shopping, cooking, cleaning, and home maintenance.
  • Approximately how many hours per week do you work at your paid job?
  • Please tell me who usually is in charge of the following tasks:
  • Paying bills
  • Cleaning the bathroom
  • Cooking meals
  • Mowing the lawn
  • Grocery shopping
  • Gardening
  • Planning meals
  • Shoveling snow (if applicable)
  • Cleaning up after meals
  • Household repairs
  • Vacuuming
  • Mending clothes
  • Dusting
  • Emptying the dishwasher
  • Washing clothes
  • Changing linens/sheets
  • Mopping the floor
  • Washing windows

If children are present in the home ask the following questions (when applicable):

  • Changing diapers
  • Getting children ready for school/day care
  • Helping with homework
  • Supervising play time
  • Driving children to school/day care
  • Arranging for play dates
  • Arranging rides/car pools
  • Making doctor and dentist appointments
  • Driving to activities
  • Bathing
  • Transporting to and from doctor and dentist
  • Arranging for day care
  1. Students break into small groups to compare interview responses. Have students address the following questions:
  • What patterns did the students notice?
  • Did husband and wife agree on who was responsible for the different chores? If not, was there a pattern?
  • Were the women typically in charge of stereotypically female tasks and the men in charge of stereotypically male tasks?
  • Was there a greater division of labor among couples with children than among couples without children?
  1. Identify the percent of companies that tout family-friendly values and benefits.
  • Average amount of time spent by husband and by wife on household tasks
  • Average amount of time spent by husband and by wife on paid work
  • For each task, the percent of the women surveyed that were responsible for the task and the percent of men that were responsible for the task (decide as a class what to do when spouses disagreed about who was responsible for a task)

4. Pool tabulations from the different groups and determine whether the results from the class show a gendered division of labor.

5. Discuss the patterns that students found in terms of division of labor. Ask students to identify the factors that might influence the division of labor in a home (e.g. relative income disparity between husband and wife, socio-economic status, presence and age of children).

Activity Source:
Content contributed by Patricia V. Roehling, Ph.D., Hope College and Phyllis Moen, Ph.D., Cornell University as a Suggested Work and Family Class Activity

Group Discussion on Work and Family Policies and Strategies

Activity Description:
Author: E. Brooke Kelly, University of North Carolina — Pembroke

This class discussion and exercise helps students begin to grasp the ways problems can be addressed at the micro level (such as counseling individuals) and the macro level (such as at the level of federal policy). It helps them to think about the different ways individuals or groups might address any social problems and the potential strengths and limitations of individual vs. policy solutions.

The following is an in-class exercise created for the section on work and family in an undergraduate sociology course on families, but it could be used or adapted for courses on work and family or sociology of work. When I teach the family course, I place particular emphasis on diverse family forms, inequalities, and the interaction between micro and macro. This exercise helps students think more concretely about potential strategies for addressing work and family conflicts. After students participate in one of the three assigned discussion exercises below, we then discuss all of them as a class.

For this discussion, we will be breaking up into groups of 4-5 students who will serve as family policy experts and/ or work/family balance counselors. Groups will be assigned to address one of the following work/family issues:

A) Strategies for Individual Families

You specialize as work/family balance counselors. Your task is to help families deal with work and family conflicts at the micro level of individual families. You are gathered here today as a team of counselors, with the task of brainstorming and sharing possible strategies with your colleagues.

Based on class lecture and readings, what are some of the work and family conflicts that families may face? In other words, for what problems might your clientele come to you? (Create at least two scenarios of work/family balance issues that you are likely to face as professionals.)
What are some strategies that you would recommend to individual families and family members for dealing with work/family balance issues? (Be specific.) In other words, what solutions would you recommend based on your scenarios of work/family problems?
Think about your recommendations. Would your proposed solutions be effective for all families? Is there anything that would make your strategies difficult for some families? Why? How? Provide further recommendations for dealing with this. Are there additional solutions/strategies that you would recommend to account for diverse family forms and circumstances?
[This question is not usually addressed until our class discussion.] Finally, are there any limitations to your approach to solving work and family strategies at the level of individual families? Can this approach solve most work and family conflicts? Are there other levels (i.e., social policies…) at which solutions need to be implemented? If so, what other strategies or solutions are needed?
B) Work & Family Policy: Child Care

You are here as a group of child advocates and family policy specialists. Your task is to think about possible proposals for resolving child care dilemmas in the U.S. To structure your discussion, think about the following questions.

Based on class lecture and readings, outline the child care dilemmas that families in the United States face? What are some of the structural forces that contribute to these child care issues for families? How do child care situations vary by family formation or structure? by other factors of family diversity? In other words, what are the child care needs of families in the United States, keeping in mind that needs will differ?
What are some possible ways to resolve these dilemmas for families? What solutions would your group propose for dealing with child care issues? Would you propose strategies for individual families? government policies? regulations for businesses? something else? or a combination of these different approaches? Specifically outline a proposal.
What obstacles would you face as a group in implementing your proposal?
C) Work and Family Policy: Revising the Family & Medical Leave Act

You are gathered here as a group of family policy experts. Your task today is to critique and revise the “Family and Medical Leave Act” of 1993.

Based on course lecture and readings, what are some of the sources and consequences of work and family conflict for contemporary families in the United States? What obstacles/issues should a federal policy implemented to help employees balance work and family life address and/or resolve?
With this in mind, carefully review the “Family Medical Leave Act” as outlined in the enclosed reference guide from UNCP. [I distribute information on the Family Medical Leave Act outlined on my university’s web-site.] Does this policy leave out any crucial issues related to work & family conflict that your group discussed? Are there diverse families or family circumstances whose needs are not served by this policy? Critique this policy.
How would you revise this policy so that it better addresses the needs of employees? Specifically outline the changes you would make in the policy or start from scratch and create your own federal policy to better address work and family balance.
Once you have composed a revised proposal, talk about what obstacles you would face in getting this new policy implemented? How do you propose to deal with this in promoting your new policy?

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.

Hot Topic Debates

Activity Description:
Author: Jodie Hertzog, Wichita State University

Purpose (From Author):
I regularly teach a general education Marriage & Families course that enrolls between 25 (summer sessions) and 75 students (regular term). In order to engage students in exploring current issues related to family life, I started including a “hot topics” assignment that has evolved from being a pure writing assignment to including an actual in-class debate presented by small groups. The assignment fulfills several course objectives, providing students an opportunity to (1) demonstrate their understanding of class concepts and readings, (2) become more aware of their own and other’s attitudes and values, (3) practice discussing controversial issues in a respectful manner, and (4) expand their critical thinking skills.

In my experience, students enrolled in introductory Marriage and Families courses sometimes struggle in learning to move past their experiential reality of family life to adopt sociological perspectives on families. I have found that integrating “hot topic” debates into the curriculum is a useful method for engaging students in this process. According to Bellon (2000), using debate as an active learning activity in the college classroom can encourage students to gain increased awareness of current social issues, to develop better communication skills, and to practice critical thinking. Goodwin’s (2003) evaluation of classroom debates further suggests that debates can aid in the collaborative learning process and assist students in considering a range of views on complex topics.

Toward the beginning of the semester, students are given the opportunity to sign up for a debate topic that interests them. Since this assignment was originally used in a Marriage and Families course, debate topics have included legalizing same-sex marriage, should mothers work outside the home, effects of child care on children, to spank or not, are cyber-affairs cheating, and should the U.S. bring back no-fault divorce, to name a few. The number of topics available and the number of spots per group largely depends on the size of the course. I have found a maximum of 4-6 students per group works best.

Once students are organized into groups, they are required to read two articles representing different sides to their debate topic. The articles generally come from the Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center (Greenhaven press-Wadsworth), but the Taking Sides series (Dushkin-McGraw Hill) has several useful topics as well. Topics specifically exploring work-life issues include:

  • Affirmative action
  • Child care
  • Comparable worth policies
  • Contingent work force
  • Corporate responsibility
  • Downsizing
  • Gender roles
  • Health insurance
  • Immigration
  • Labor unions
  • Minimum wage
  • Poverty and welfare
  • School to work transition
  • Sexual harassment
  • Wage gap
  • Working mothers
  • Young adults’ work values

In addition to the viewpoints articles, students are assigned readings from the text associated with their topic, as well as a selection on critical thinking and tools for reasoning (see Williams et al. 2006). Based on this information, each student types a two-page response to the following questions:

1. What underlying issues are being debated in the readings?
2. According to supporters, what are some possible advantages in favor of

supporting the issue?
3. According to those in opposition, what are some possible disadvantages to

supporting the issue?
4. What fallacies of reasoning emerge from the debate?
5. What alternative policy/programs have been proposed or might be developed?
6. What implications does the debate have for families in society?


The paper is graded in terms of how thorough the student answered each question and whether the student provides support for each answer with facts and/or examples from the readings. I generally make the paper worth 10-12 points.

For the class debate, student groups divide up the tasks of presenting underlying issues, the support position, the opposition, and any alternative policies/positions that could arise. The presentation is worth 10 points and is evaluated in terms of clarity, equal representation of view points, use of supporting evidence, and overall preparedness.

Following the presentation, the class divides into small groups to discuss the fallacies of reasoning and the implications of the debates for families. Following small group discussion, the class debriefs the activity as a large group and relates the discussion to broader course concepts. All students can earn participation points on debate days.


Bellon, J. (2000). A research based justification for debate across the curriculum. Argumentation & Advocacy, 36(3), 161-175. Retrieved from

Goodwin, J. (2003). Students’ perspectives on debate exercises in content area classes. Communication Education, 52(2), 157-163.

Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Wadsworth. Available at:

Taking Sides Series. Dushkin/McGraw-Hill. Available at:

Williams, B., Sawyer, S., & Wahlstrom, C. (2006). Learning how to think: Keys to being open-minded (pp. 47-53). In Marriages, Families, & Intimate Relationships: A Practical Introduction. Boston: Pearson/Allyn & Bacon.

Additional Resources:
Bell, E. (1991). Debate: A strategy for teaching critical thinking. Nurse Educator, 16(2), 6-7.

Crone, J. (1997). Using panel debates to increase student involvement in the introductory sociology class. Teaching Sociology, 25(3), 214-218.

Dundes, L. (2001). Small group debates: Fostering critical thinking in oral presentations with maximum class involvement. Teaching Sociology, 29(2), 237-243.

Garrett, M. (1996). Debate: A teaching strategy to improve verbal communication and critical-thinking skills. Nurse Educator, 21(4), 37-40.

Green, C., & Klug, H. (1990). Teaching critical thinking and writing through debates: An experiential evaluation. Teaching Sociology, 18(4), 462-471.

Huryn, J. (1986). Debating as a teaching technique. Teaching Sociology, 14(4), 266-269.

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.References:
Bellon, J. (2000). A research based justification for debate across the curriculum. Argumentation & Advocacy, 36(3), 161-175. Retrieved from

Goodwin, J. (2003). Students’ perspectives on debate exercises in content area classes. Communication Education, 52(2), 157-163.

Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Wadsworth. Available at:

Taking Sides Series. Dushkin/McGraw-Hill. Available at:

Williams, B., Sawyer, S., & Wahlstrom, C. (2006). Learning how to think: Keys to being open-minded (pp. 47-53). In Marriages, Families, & Intimate Relationships: A Practical Introduction. Boston: Pearson/Allyn & Bacon.

Additional Resources:
Bell, E. (1991). Debate: A strategy for teaching critical thinking. Nurse Educator, 16(2), 6-7.

Crone, J. (1997). Using panel debates to increase student involvement in the introductory sociology class. Teaching Sociology, 25(3), 214-218.

Dundes, L. (2001). Small group debates: Fostering critical thinking in oral presentations with maximum class involvement. Teaching Sociology, 29(2), 237-243.

Garrett, M. (1996). Debate: A teaching strategy to improve verbal communication and critical-thinking skills. Nurse Educator, 21(4), 37-40.

Green, C., & Klug, H. (1990). Teaching critical thinking and writing through debates: An experiential evaluation. Teaching Sociology, 18(4), 462-471.

Huryn, J. (1986). Debating as a teaching technique. Teaching Sociology, 14(4), 266-269.

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.

How Not to Manage Generation Y

Activity Description:
This is an excerpt from the training materials available from RainmakerThinking, Inc. This PowerPoint specifically focuses on Generation Y and the mistakes managers make when interacting with workers from this generation.

Please click here to download the PowerPoint slides.

Activity Source:

Identity Photographs

Activity Description:
To explore three dimensions of identity


Take 12 – 24 photographs that represent the answer to the question, “Who am I?”
Mount the photos. Include a write-up that explains the photographic content of your self-concept.
The write-up should address four questions:

What do your identities mean to you? (e.g., the content of your identities as conveyed by the photographs)
How do you think other people see you? (e.g., reflexivity of identities)
What identities are the most and least important with regard to defining who you are (e.g., salience of identities portrayed in the photographs).
What are the implications that your identities have with regard to current or future work-family responsibilities?
Activity Source:
Content contributed by Don Forsyth as a Suggested Work and Family Class Activity

Illustration of Work-Family Concepts from ‘The Simpsons’

Activity Description:

Authors: Sara C. Hare & Robert C. Lennartz, Indiana University Southeast


Using a television show to illustrate family and work concepts.

The Simpsons, the animated situation comedy, is now in its 29th season. Students have literally grown up with the critically-acclaimed show and understand its biting commentaries on American society, current events and family issues. The Simpson family includes the nuclear family of Homer and Marge, bad-boy Bart, socially-conscious Lisa, and baby Maggie, along with a cast of regular characters from the community of Springfield.

Scanlan and Feinberg (2000) introduced the idea of using the television show to teach sociological concepts. While they recommend using the entire 22-minute episode, specific concepts can be introduced or illustrated with a shorter 3-5 minute clip. Seasons 1-7 are now available for purchase or rental so more examples of illustrated concepts from those seasons have been included in the table below. However, episodes are rerun nightly in most viewing areas so that particular episodes can be taped easily. Students may also be a resource for copies of particular episodes.

The linked table includes episodes that illustrate family and work concepts. The table is organized in chronological order because the episodes are bundled by season when they are purchased or rented. The official identifier for the episode (code number) and the episode title (in quotes) are also included.

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.

Activity Links to Materials:

simpsons table

Implementing Policies, Practices, and Culture to Support Organizational Effectiveness and Work and Family Relationships

Activity Description:

In this teaching module, factors affecting the use of work-life policies are reviewed and information about the percentage of employers offering various work-life programs is provided. In addition, the various management philosophies on work-life programs are presented and supplemental class activities are provided at the conclusion of the slide show.

To access this resource, visit workplace module b 


Activity Source:

Sloan Work and Family Research Network (n.d.). Implementing policies, practices, and culture to support organizational effectiveness, and work-family relationships. Retrieved from

Improving Work Supports

Activity Description:

A PowerPoint presentation by Nancy K. Cauthen, Deputy Director of the National Center for Children in Poverty. Presented at the Economic Policy Institute’s October 2007 conference, “Agenda for Shared Prosperity: Alleviating Poverty.”

Activity Source:

Cauthen, N.K. (2007). Improving work supports. Retrieved December 4, 2007, from the Agenda for Shared Prosperity web site:

Integrating Flexible Work Arrangements and Work

Activity Description:


To understand the challenges of implementing flexible work arrangements policies in organizations and to offer innovative solutions to achieving greater balance between work and family demands.


  1. Read Bailyn, L., & Fletcher, J. K. (1997). Unexpected connections: Considering employees’ personal lives can revitalize your business. Sloan Management Review, 38, 11-19 and have students answer the following questions:
  2. Do you believe most employers care about balancing work and other life activities? Why or why not?
  3. Should employers care? Why or why not?
  4. According to the article, what is the major barrier to balancing work and other life activities

within an organization?

  1. What factors explain the different experiences of the groups described in this article?
  2. Discuss the barriers to changing an organizational culture to one that embraces and

effectively utilizes flexible work arrangements.

  1. Discuss each of the steps presented by the authors to capturing the benefits of a

connection between work and life. How would you go about implementing these steps in an

organization? How would you know if the organization is ready to take such a step?

  1. How do you define success in the implementation of flexible work arrangements within an

organization? Why or why not?

  1. Can flexible work arrangements be successfully adopted without consideration of the

issues discussed in this article?

  1. Form students into groups of 3-4.
  2. Have each group identify an organization that they can work with to analyze the feasibility of various flexible work arrangements for a particular group of employees (or for the organization as a whole if it is a small organization). The organization can be one that already has flexible work arrangements or that is considering adopting such arrangements.
  3. Have students conduct interviews or surveys to identify work practices that have unintended negative consequences for both the employees’ personal lives and for the organization’s goals by interviewing employees to discover the impact their work has on their personal lives.
  4. Have students then identify workplace constraints that interfere with life balance and create stress within the workplace.
  5. Examining these work/life and workplace issues, students should then identify workplace practices that could be changed to pave the way for flexible work arrangements suitable to the environment.
  6. Finally, students should consider which flexible work arrangements might be useful and make recommendations for how they would be structured and how they might be successfully implemented.
  7. A final report could be submitted to the instructor or students could present their research and findings to the class (and/or organization).

NOTE: Instructors looking for a shorter in-class exercise could limit this activity to step 1 only.

Activity Source:

Content contributed by Barbara L. Rau as a Suggested Work and Family Class Activity

International Comparison of Work Hours

Activity Description:

Full-time and part-time employees from the United States, Canada, and Great Britain were asked “In a typical week, how many hours do your work?”.

Click on the document called, “International comparison of work hours.ppt” at the end of this entry.

Activity Source:

Arora, R. (2004, October 5). Are Americans really abject workaholics?. Gallup Poll Tuesday Briefing, p.1-4.

Activity Links to Materials:


Lobbying for and against Paid Family Leave

Activity Description:
The goal of this exercise is for students to become familiar with and learn how to represent several competing view points on family leave policies and practices. Students should be familiar with the notion of family leave before beginning.

The concrete task is to take positions on a proposal for paid family leave. Students should work together in small groups to articulate the position of a particular interest group on a paid family leave proposal in preparation for “lobbying” a “Senator.” Students might prepare in advance outside of class for the “lobbying day” or in class, depending on how in-depth the instructor wants them to go.

It is important for students to work together in small groups to articulate the position of their assigned interest group. It is important for students to “lobby” the “Senator” with the rest of the class as audience. And it is important for each group of students to listen to the lobbying efforts of the other groups.

Interest groups to represent include: labor, child care workers, advocates for child health and well being, the aged, the chronically ill, the disabled, manufacturers, local chambers of commerce, the United States Chamber of Commerce, small businesses, large employers and human resources professionals.

The role of the “Senator” could be played by a class visitor with actual policy experiences or by a small group of students assigned to play the “Senator” role. During “lobbying” discussions, the “Senator” should make it clear that both the Senator’s time to put into pushing for positions and the public money available for funding programs are scarce resources being allocated among a variety of competing interests and that the “Senator” must keep re-election in mind as well. For example, the “Senator” might say to the feminists that they just haven’t been getting the votes out or to business that the “Senator” cannot afford to alienate labor, etc.

Examples of proposed paid family leave laws can be found on the web site of the National Partnership for Women and Families. The existing California paid family leave law could be used. Or the instructor could simply propose that the existing federal family leave law be amended to require paid leave.

Activity Source:
Content contributed by Elizabeth Rudd as a Suggested Work and Family Class Activity

Mapping Your Social Capital

Activity Description:

Rosalind Edwards

Purpose To explore your own social capital


  1. Read the Social Capital entry in the WFRN Encylopedia.
  2. Fill in the network map (click on the document, “Network_Map.pdf” at the end of this entry to view and download map in PDF format). In the allocated segments of the map, write the names of people with whom you are in regular contact: your family, close friends, people you know from any membership of social interest groups or clubs, people you know from work and/or education, and any other significant people in your life.
  3. Fill in the network table (click on the document at the end of this entry to view and download table in PDF format). List the names of the people on your network map and then tick the social category boxes next to their names. You can add more social categories if you want to, for example religion or education level.
  4. What do you notice about your social capital? Is it more bonding (people like you) or bridging (people unlike you)? Is it situated more in particular areas of your life and less in others?
  5. If you can, ask your parents or grandparents to undertake the mapping exercises. Is your social capital different from theirs and, if so, in what ways?
  6. What do the different theoretical perspectives outlined in the encyclopedia entry tell you about your social capital? Does it reflect continuing social and economic inequalities in society? Does it reflect a breakdown of family and community relationships? Does it reflect new forms of social capital that are developing in contemporary society?

Activity Source:

Content contributed by Rosalind Edwards as a Suggested Work and Family Class Activity

Activity Links to Materials:


Network_Map Network_Table

National Federation of Independent Business, Family Time Flexibility/Compensatory Time

Activity Description:

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) offers talking points in support of Family Time Flexibility/ Compensatory Time legislation (Fair Labor Standards Act Reform).

Please click here to view:

Activity Source:

National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB)

Observation of Family Rituals

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

The study of middle class family ritual is well suited to participation- observation fieldwork exercises, working individually or in small groups.

If appropriate, several students might attend a family ceremony, such as a Friday night seder.
Ask the students to write detailed fieldnotes (or perhaps even video the event).
Students might asked to compare their field notes afterwards. They could consider questions, such as:
Which aspects of the ritual struck them as significant and why?
Which aspects of a ritual script appear to be broadly invariant, and which appear open to creative improvisation?
The field notes in turn might be the basis of research papers, as students attempt to interpret their data in light of the interpretive models of Turner, Geertz, Babcock, Neville and others.

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

Observing Workplace Rituals

Activity Description:

Purpose: To encourage students to consider the meaning of workplace rituals and the symbolic management of work-family relations

As is the case for rituals of the family (see Rituals of the Family entry), rituals of the workplace lend themselves to original student research projects.

Local firms may be open to having students observe a workplace for a period, tracking various rites large and small through the working day and talking to employees about which ceremonies they have found helpful, meaningful, relaxing, or disturbing.

(As always in field projects, it is important to work closely with students on field ethics and to review policies on the protection of human subjects.)

In a collaborative class project in a given workplace, each student might take careful note of the meaningful organization of different symbolic media, such as space in the workplace, adornment, food symbolism, or the use of photographic images.

What sites (such as water coolers or coffee alcoves) are deemed appropriate for informal interaction?

When office parties do take place, where are they held? Who organizes the parties?

In what contexts, and through what media, are workers’ family lives signaled within the workplace? Under what circumstances is it generally deemed inappropriate to bring family or family issues into workplace conversations.

Resulting student projects on the ritual and symbolic dynamics of workplaces might be collected in some form – perhaps in a student-developed website -and serve, in turn, as points of departure for subsequent courses.

NOTE: Although fieldwork projects based on “participant-observation” yield far rich data than interviews, in some instances it may be impossible or inconvenient to arrange field placements. If so, students might interview their parents on these topics, or reflect on their own experiences working in fast food restaurants or shopping malls.

Activity Source:
Suggestion submitted by Mark Auslander, Brandeis University

Organizational Payback from Work/Life Policies

Activity Description:

In this exercise, students consider the business perspective for offering work-life programs and policies.


Ask students to meet in small groups of five to six members each to brainstorm some of the productivity implications of offering work/life programs, and to write their responses to the following questions on their flip charts:

  • What are some productivity-related benefits of implementing effective polices to balance work/life integration? (Try to brainstorm as many factors that could be measured as you can. As needed, suggest that the students consider the impact on: attraction and retention; turnover; quality of customer service; absenteeism; tardiness; employees’ commuting time; costs of office administration; opportunities for cross-training; employee performance; and productivity.)
  • Can you think of any productivity-related costs of not offering effective work/life policies? (Try to brainstorm as many factors that could be measured as you can.)

Report Out/Discussion:

After twenty minutes, ask each group to report out its responses and allow participants to ask questions.


After the discussion, present a lecture on the organizational benefits of providing policies that support work/life balance. (Note: The following are detailed lecture notes along with appropriate questions for the participants.)


As your groups’ reporting of your brainstorming has shown, there are many potential productivity consequences of organizational supports for work/life integration. Clearly companies simply have to be more creative and thorough in assessing them. Unquestionably the issue of measuring work/life integration supports is complex. On one hand, it is critical to link these programs to the bottom line in order to gain support from management. Getting resources for new and existing programs will be aided by this approach. On the other hand, the effectiveness of such interventions as flextime, leaves of absence, and so on also often hinges on concomitant culture change at the informal level as opposed to the formal level. All the formal programs in the world won’t work if employees are scared to use them or if they aren’t effectively implemented. Nevertheless there are some data supporting the productivity impact of work/family programs. For approximately the next hour and a half, we will review some of the key issues related to assessing the productivity impact of these programs. The  lecture mainly focuses on child-care benefit programs since most of the published research has been done in this area. However, it is important to recognize that these are part of a larger issue of work/life balance.

Measuring Payback from Work/life Programs

Interactive Question: Why do you think there is increasing pressure in many firms to measure payback from work and family issues? Take as many responses from participants as possible.

Many managers see work/life programs as an employee entitlement or benefit that does little to help improve the bottom line. Although companies support many non-work programs where direct linkage to productivity may be difficult to measure (such as country club memberships and participation in civic groups), there is growing pressure to show the bottom-line impact of work/life programs. This pressure is due in part to the fact that work/life programs have historically been viewed by many managers as being in the benefits arena, which is under increasing scrutiny to 189 demonstrate cost containment and productivity effectiveness. Historically work/life programs have been viewed as a woman’s issue as opposed to a mainstream employee-relations issue. They have also been perceived as overlooking some employee groups such as single and older employees. Work/life programs are also seen as an individual issue. The U.S. culture does not generally see how a helping person with personal problems helps the organization and society. Implicitly we assume that if an employee places a high priority on family or outside interests, he or she cannot place an equally high commitment on the workplace. Yet today all employees have families and other private involvements such as community, church, and recreation. In addition, most people will have at least one parent to care for as we look toward elder care as the work/family issue of the future.

Allen Bergerson, director of personnel policy development at Eastman Kodak, has a quote underscoring the importance of investing in work/family programs: “When my management asks what the return on investment will be with the proposed family supportive policies, I tell them that I can’t promise them anything in return. But I can say that the problems are costing us more than the programs will [Galinsky, Friedman, & Hernandez, 1991].”

Interactive Question: Why should organizations bother trying to measure the bottom-line impact of something that may be very difficult to effectively measure? Take as many participant responses as possible.

Given the increasing scarcity of corporate resources, it is critical to justify programs. A high level of support for work/family issues does cost money and/or require major corporate change. Culture change that supports work/life integration is more likely to occur if these initiatives are perceived as adding to organizational effectiveness.

Interactive Question: Can you think of any organizational political consequences of measuring work/life programs’ impact on productivity? Take as many participant responses as possible.

There are some political issues related to measurement strategy. On one hand, it may be good to link to other larger programs such as quality or diversity if these issues are viewed as being strategically important. On the other hand, it may not be good to be linked if work/family programs are competing for the same resources.

Work and Family Programs and Their Productivity Effects

Now I’d like to review what the research tells us about the productivity effects of work/life initiatives. As you will see, many of the financial benefits you brainstormed earlier are included.

Attraction and Retention of:

  • Employees in general
  • In general, studies show users of work/family programs were more likely to recommend employment at their organization to a friend and were more likely to take family supportive programs into consideration in their decision to stay at the organization.
  • Nontraditional employees  
  • Programs such as flextime, part-time work, or a compressed workweek can help attract and retain
  • a wider range of employees including individuals  with family needs at the beginning, end, or
  • middle of the day; part-time students; or individuals with community-based commitments.  
  • Turnover Issues:
  • Failure to redesign the workplace and culture to be more family-friendly can mean loss of good employees. One study found that 35 percent of working men and women with young children have told their bosses they would not take jobs involving shift work, relocation, extensive travel, intense pressure, or lots of overtime [Rodgers, F., & Rodgers, C., 1989].
  • Loss of senior talent It is estimated that only 30 percent of women in senior positions have children compared to 95 percent of men in similar positions [Hedrick & Struggle, 1991]. It appears some women are forgoing having children while others are forgoing fast-track careers. Also there are more men in 190 dual-career marriages. Senior males today are  increasingly different as well, being more interested in balance.
  • IBM study (work/family benefits ranks second out of sixteen for top performers) IBM did a study in which they asked employees to rank the importance of work/family benefits as a reason for joining the company. These benefits  ranked only fourteen out of sixteen on the average if all employees were included in the sample but jumped to six out of sixteen as a reason for staying! In addition, these benefits ranked second out of sixteen for top-performing employees!

Customer Service Benefits

Under a scheduled flextime program where some employees come to work early and other stay late, departments can extend phone coverage and customer service hours without any increase in budget [internal CIGNA document, undated].

Absenteeism and Tardiness:

  • The average worker loses at least three days a year due to child-related issues. Flexible schedules and compressed workweeks can reduce absenteeism and tardiness.
  • Absenteeism is lowered by an on-site center only if sick care or family backup care is available. It is well documented that the average worker (often female) loses at least several workdays a year due to child-related issues [Galinsky, Friedman, & Hernandez, 1991]. A compressed workweek may cut down on absenteeism and tardiness if the extra weekday off can be used for school conferences and doctor and other appointments.
  • Absenteeism is lowered by an on-site center only if sick care or family backup care options are available employees can’t bring sick kids to a center. Yet sick care can be very expensive to offer as a formal program. Letting parents provide care a few times a year may be cheaper. In many organizations it is already formal policy for parents to use their sick days to take care of ill children.  

Shorter Commuting Time:

  • Home-based work allows for the recruitment  and retention of employees who are unable or unwilling to commute to the office five days a week. Employee productivity could improve for employees who need to be close to dependents for whom they provide care.
  • Lower Office Administration Costs  Home-based work may help alleviate the office space crunch and help save costs while at the same time meeting employees’ needs.
  • Improved Cross Training and Productivity Job sharing in particular may reduce training time because if one sharer leaves, the other can train a replacement. Greater productivity can be  generated if job sharers bring complementary skills and abilities to the job, for instance, if each tends to be more than half committed to the job. Job sharing can provide an opportunity to enhance  team-building skills and may fit with other current cultural change efforts toward greater use of teams.


  • May help some employee groups more than others. Being present for work is a minimum condition to perform (child-care benefits often lower absenteeism, tardiness, and interruptions, thereby enabling people to begin to focus on performing their jobs).
  • Allows employees to be at the same starting line with other coworkers.
  • Child care is a benefit that affects organizational membership behaviors-joining and staying at the organization, rather than motivating the  employee. (Supervisory, performance, and reward systems should provide this.) In the short term, child-care benefits may help some employee groups (such as women or people without family in the area) more than others. For example, one study [Kossek & Nichol, 1992] found that use of  a child-care center had the greatest positive effect on morale and behavior of female employees and employees who lacked familial backup care in the immediate vicinity. Employees for whom child-care-related absenteeism was low received higher performance ratings from supervisors than those who had higher child-care related absenteeism. Being at work is a minimum condition to perform. In other words, if one is not at work, one is unable to even begin to fulfill performance expectations. Work/ family benefits allow employees to be at the same starting line with other coworkers in running the race of good 191 performance instead of starting the race at a disadvantage-a few steps back from the starting line [Kossek, & Nichol, 1992].

Counterbalancing Labor Shortages:

The Families and Work Institute’s (1991) Corporate Reference Guide survey found that 55 percent of organizational respondents faced labor shortages of skilled technical and clerical workers. Labor market is key: in a tough competitive market where it is very difficult to attract and replace the workers you need, work/family friendliness may be the issue that gives you the competitive edge. SAS Corporation offers onsite care in its North Carolina facility and feels this benefit is a reason why its turnover is 30 percent less than the national average for similar type consulting firms.  


  • Thirty percent of adults say they experience high stress nearly every day.
  • Stress-related diseases caused by tensions on and off the job have exploded, especially among women.

A nationwide 1995 study by The Families and Work Institute shows that 30 percent of adults say they experience high stress nearly every day; even higher numbers report high stress once or twice a week [Galinsky, Bond, & Hernandez, 1993]. Stress-related diseases have exploded, especially among women, and jobs are a major factor. Workers’ compensation claims related to stress began to jump during the 1980s. (Some stress-related diseases are depression, exhaustion, hypertension, heart disease, and gastric problems.) A more recent example comes from reports from the New York University Medical Center that found a 70 percent increase since 1990 in the number of managers and professionals  complaining of job related stress [Nash, 1994]. Studies also indicate that a majority of employees are getting between sixty and ninety minutes less sleep a night than is optimal. Another factor contributing to stress is the notion of time poverty: while paid employment hours have increased, hours of household labor (cooking, cleaning, child care) have not necessarily decreased. [Schor, 1991.] Violence in the workplace is a growing trend that was relatively uncommon a decade or so ago.

Employee Attitudes and Morale:

  • Job satisfaction
  • Organizational commitment and loyalty
  • Lower litigation from disgruntled employees

Besides stress, high work/family conflict has been linked to role conflict and role overload, and lower job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and loyalty. Some organizations think if you give employees an inch, they’ll take a mile; however, it is more likely that if you give them an inch, they’ll give you back a mile and be truly grateful [Grover & Crooker, 1995]. Employees who feel they have been treated well are less likely to resort to the courts to resolve personnel issues regarding their fair treatment in the workplace.  

Linkage to Quality: View People as a “Root Cause”

A study at FELPRO (an innovative manufacturing firm of automobile gaskets located in Skokie, Illinois) found that family supportive policies positively affected work performance, flexibility, and openness to organizational change. The heaviest users of work/family policies also made the most employee suggestions [Lambert, Hopkins, & Easton, 1992].

Managers need to learn to “view people as a root cause.” That is, poor quality doesn’t come from not focusing enough on the customers; it comes from not viewing employees as the ultimate internal customer of the organization. If employees are well treated, high quality and high customer service should follow. Furthermore, currently organizations are designed to treat daily work/family problems as the exception to the rule. This approach, in the language of quality guru Deming, views work/family problems as special  cause variation. The defect that occurred (work/life problem) was an exceptional or unusual circumstance that should be corrected on a case-by-case basis. (Just like in the old version of the auto assembly plants where defects were corrected as an unusual case-by-case problem) [Deming, 1986]. We need to shift our frame and view work/life issues as common cause issues. All employees at one point or another are going to 192 experience problems in work/life integration but the degree to which individuals are likely to experience work/life integration conflicts will vary. So instead we need to improve the system for all workers and let them self-manage problems better. If we redesigned our systems to promote flexibility in work and family integration, we wouldn’t have to make all of these exceptions (special causes) to deal with work/family problems and requests.

(Optional) You may make an overhead of the following quotations to display and discuss at the end of this section. The quotations were taken from field notes gathered by Cutcher-Gershenfeld, Kossek, & Sandling as background for the recent publication Organizational Dynamics [1997].

As several managers in a study on links between quality and work/family efforts commented: “A corporation’s success depends on a quality, innovative, and dedicated work force; if you don’t get the people thing right, you won’t get the customer thing right.” -Dow Manager

“To get high quality, you need to be sensitive to the personal needs that employees have. There should not be a division between personal needs and what is going on at work.” -Motorola Manager  

“You must believe that people are worth developing and that you manage by prevention. Think about the fact that you have this valuable commodity, this human being who works for the company. You want to continuously develop this. Hopefully, you will gain a long-term employee who is flexible, creative, and gives a lot to the organization. There are very few managers who are really good at managing the human resource and looking at the long-term picture of career development, work, family issues, and dealing with diversity. When these become integrated things, instead of add ons—that’s when I think  we have gotten close to arriving.” -Corning Manager

Payback Measurement Issues: Some of the Nitty Gritty Need for Quality Research

    • Generally more anecdotal than rigorous
    • Poor or no control groups, or no longitudinal data
    • No long-term data matching specific employees before and after intervention
  • Use of single items as opposed to psychometric scales Research on the productivity impact of work/life programs has generally been either flawed or nonexistent. Few rigorous studies have been done to systematically assess effectiveness. Most companies rely simply on qualitative self-report  data from employees. It is important to design studies using control groups and longitudinal data to assess the impact of supports on employees before and after an intervention was implemented. By not collecting long-term data matching specific employees (such as an employee’s performance or absenteeism record both before and after an intervention was implemented), it is nearly impossible to evaluate the effects of programs. And when surveys are designed, they are usually not developed by individuals trained in psychometrics, so often single-item measures that tend to be highly unreliable are used.


Examination of Currently Captured Data

Organizations must assess the effectiveness of existing measurement systems and then decide how much they want to spend on measurement and what it’s worth to them. (Consider academic and consortium partnerships.) Existing HRIS systems may not have the data needed to capture productivity enhancement.  

Interactive Question: What kinds of data would be important to an organization’s line/operation people? Take as many participant responses as you can.

HR people may have a different perspective than the line management. Some items that can be measured include:

-Tardiness (did it decrease when a flextime program was put in?) 193

-Recaptured productivity (are people absent less often, do people feel more likely to engage in extra-role behaviors because they feel additional commitment to the organization?)

-Avoiding the three o’clock syndrome (workers calling home to make sure kids made it home from school) instead of spending the time focusing on their jobs.

-Taking a long-term versus a short-term perspective of HR policies (do we have lower turnover, higher retention, higher morale and employee commitment?)

Interactive Question: Do you have any suggestions based on either your current thinking or from the brainstorming done earlier in this session on some creative ways to measure payback? (Any creative accountants here?)

Take as many participant responses as you can. Clearly selection and recruitment costs are reduced due to lower turnover but others such as improved cross-training and customer service coverage are examples of less obvious financial benefits.

Tips and Troubleshooting

  • Carefully consider what to measure.
  • What information is important to gather? Is it more costly to hire and train a new employee or provide supportive policies such as transition schedules for a new parent coming back to work after parental leave? Aetna’s estimated cost of hiring and training a new employee is about one and a half times an employee’s salary. Many of Aetna’s jobs required highly skilled claims adjusters that can be difficult to find [The Partnership Group, Annual Meeting, Philadelphia, personal communication, 1994].
  • Some issues can be legally tricky to study.
  • It might be legally problematic to ask potential recruits (especially women) about the importance of childcare programs as an attraction tool. (It would be safer to study all new hires but then researchers will have lost the sample and background of people who didn’t join the company.)
  • Look for naturally occurring experimental groups. One study [Kossek & Nichol, 1992] at a large health care organization compared the performance and attitudes of supervisors and users of an on-site child-care center with employees who were on the wait list for this benefit. These are great comparison groups because they isolate the effects of providing work/family benefits to working parents who have a need and interest in receiving company assistance (essentially your internal employee market for work/family  assistance). Yet most of the published literature compares employees using child-care programs with employees in the general employee population who are likely to systematically differ from center users (for example, more likely to be in traditional two-parent household with only one primary breadwinner).
  • Compute job share benefits budget. Cost center managers budget about 20 percent of base salary for benefits and services. If two employees share one job and each earns a half-time salary, the benefits budget would be shared evenly. Each worker’s benefits would be calculated as 20 percent of the half-time budget.
  • Compute compressed workweek. Compute vacation, personal, and sick days on an hourly-as opposed to daily-basis.
  • Current absenteeism policies may hide child-care assistance impact. If vacation, sick time, and personal days are rolled into one policy, it might not be possible to gather exact information on how much sick time was used.
  • Comparisons across employee groups may be difficult. Sometimes there are no performance ratings for unionized employees or the existing performance appraisal systems are not valid. Consequently it is difficult to study performance impact of work/family programs.  
  • Exit interview data may be lacking.
  • Because of legal constraints, HR personnel may not be able to ask people what they really want to know. By the time people are quitting they don’t care anymore and may not be totally frank.

Future and Long-Term Perspective on Payback

Shift in Focus from Impact of Single Policies to Impact  of Multiple Workplace Factors and Cultural Issues. Increasingly studies need to take a holistic approach and measure the impact of 194using multiple policies as opposed to a policy-by-policy assessment. For example, this will portray a more accurate picture of how families rely on different supports at different points in time.

Limits of Measuring Payback

  • Programs currently offered may be underused because they are not the ones employees need. Programs currently offered may not be the ones employees truly want, may have been adopted without a quality-needs assessment prior to implementation, or have been implemented ineffectively. For example, when American Savings Bank of Stockton, California, asked its employees what they thought of its award winning child-care program, they ranked it dead last on a list of seventeen benefits. With a 70 percent female workforce, officials had expected greater employee support. The benefit only served nine hundred of the four thousand workers. Also workers in different locations of the same firm may want different things. For example, employers at Sears Roebuck found that workers in Charlotte, North Carolina, needed more day-care slots in the region while the last thing employees in traffic-clogged Los Angeles wanted was on-site child care requiring them to commute to work with children.
  • Some HR policies discourage the use of work/life policies. Headcount allocation may discourage the use of job sharing/part-time work. To overcome this, in 1991 CIGNA switched to a system that counts a regular part-time employee as one-half of a headcount. Now a job sharer who works more than 17.5 hours per week but less than the standard hours for full-time will count as .5 of a person. Therefore splitting a job will have no effect on headcount allocation.  
  • Formal policies may be underused if people are scared of using the programs. Work/life programs are often considered a “woman’s issue”-men are discouraged from using them. And it is assumed that employee’s who place a high priority on family or outside interests are not committed to the workplace.
  • The most important change employees desire is having more flexibility. Research consistently shows that greater time flexibility rather than specific dependent care benefits is the family-friendly policy most desired by employed parents [Galinsky, Friedman, & Hernandez, 1991]. What employees really want may not necessarily be direct child-care aid but flexibility. Workers often say they want flexible schedules, a change that requires management training and cultural change. A company may find it easier to spend over a million dollars on a new child-care center than to change the way it manages people [Shellenbarger, 1992].


In conclusion, payback from work/life programs can be measured if one is creative about it. Further, in addition to the financial benefits we have discussed today most employers would concur that one cannot put a high enough price tag on good employee morale, lower turnover, commitment and retention, and a quality reputation as a very good place to work.

Activity Source:
Kossek, E. E. (n.d.). Organizational payback from work/life policies: A suggested work and family class activity. Retrieved from

Organizational Pressures

Activity Description:

To consider all the various pressures organizations and key management face in decision making. Initial group discussion followed by a larger class discussion.


1. Divide the class into groups of five people. Each group represents the top management team of a prominent organization.

  1. Each group needs to identify pressures their organization faces as a result of being prominent in society (i.e. be kind to the environment, treat employees well, give back to the community, etc.).

  2. Further, each group should identify the stakeholders associated with each pressure (i.e. investors, employees, etc.).

  3. Reconvene as a class for a short time period to ensure all students have identified the appropriate pressures.

  4. Return to the groups, or if preferable, discuss as a class, how these pressures and stakeholder influences affect the firm’s decision to adopt a work-life policy.

  5. As a research tie-in, discuss the results of Arthur’s (2003) findings that announcements of work-life initiatives increased firm share price (likely contrary to what students may think).

Activity Source:
Content contributed by Alison Cook as a Suggested Work and Family Class Activity


Overcoming Work-Life Barriers to Recruitment

Activity Description:


To brainstorm recruitment strategies that can be used to overcome problems hiring due to work-life issues


  1. Divide the class into groups of five people. Each group represents the top HR management professionals in an organization. They have met to brainstorm how to address a recruitment problem relating to work-life issues.
  2. Each group receives a paragraph describing the recruitment problem. Each group gets a separate recruitment problem. Examples of problems are provided below. You can also create additional problems on your own.
  1. Your organization has identified the ideal candidate for the position of Chief Financial Officer. After an extensive search you find the ideal candidate for the position. The problem is the candidate lives in Dallas, TX and your position is in New York City. Although the candidate is very interested in to position his wife is very reluctant to relocate because (a) she doesn’t want to be far from her family in Texas, (b) they have two children in high school and she is concerned relocation would be difficult for them, and (c) she believes she would not like living in New York City (although she has never been there). What could you do to overcome this barrier to recruiting the ideal candidate
  2. You manage a large call center for a major telecommunications firm. The people you employ as call center operators tend to be high-school educated female employees in their 20s and 30s who have small children at home. Many are single mothers. You have trouble recruiting and retaining operators for the 3pm -11 pm and the 11 pm – 7 am shifts. Through exit interviews you learn that many operators have difficulty obtaining child care during these hours and this contributes to turnover. You expect this may also contribute to the recruitment problem. How would you determine (a) if this is in fact a barrier to recruitment and (b) if it is, how would you overcome this?
  3. You are the HR manager for a management consulting firm. Your firm has a good reputation and your compensation package is very competitive. However, your consultants typically travel up to 80% and you have recently encountered great difficulty recruiting workers into these positions because of the extensive travel requirement. Moreover, workers that turn down positions due to travel are demographically diverse single and married, young and old, parents and non-parents – so it appears that there may be varied reasons why travel is undesirable to these workers. How would you handle this barrier to recruiting management consultants?
  1. Each group should discuss the recruitment problem their organization is facing and identify strategies that could be used to overcome this problem. Each group should receive 15-20 for this discussion.
  2. Next, reconvene as a class and have each group report out on their recruitment problems and the strategies identified for overcoming it. Facilitate discussion with other members about any strategies they may have missed. While you are doing this, list the problems and strategies on the board.

Activity Source:

Content contributed by Wendy Casper as a Suggested Work and Family Class Activity