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 website.] 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.