Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Not a Myth, and Not Quite a Reality Yet

Is the grass really greener on the other side of the pond?

I wish that in the mires of my office, in the hours I spent toiling at my desk in corporate America I had come across this article. It would have given me a bit more perspective. A whole look at how we American’s cannot use the pat answer (and yes, I’m guilty of it too) that the Europeans have it all figured out. They don’t either. So Ms. American ladies, while you are perhaps feeling a bit guilty about being at work or that maybe your company is a tad unfair consider this article and know that in some ways American women do have it better.

“Only one in five Europeans works some sort of flexible schedule, as compared with almost 30 percent in the United States. And because European companies have traditionally invested less in technology than their American counterparts, the notion of such accepted U.S. practices as "remote work" are less common.”

Flex time if used properly and actually adhered to by a company is one of the best things to come out of the American workforce since banishing child labor. Allowing people to work remotely is another one. The problem that Americans run into is the abuse of and misuse of these two elements. Either an employee abuses flex time so much it’s taken away or a manager doesn’t allow it. In my most recent place of work my manager had differing views from the other two managers on how to work flex time. It was a constant source of confusion for the employees. Follow their direct manager 100% and they ran into trouble with the overall department manager. Look over your cube and the person with yet a different manager had an entirely separate set of rules. That is NOW WAY to run a department. It causes dissatisfaction, envy and dissent among co-workers. Hardly the “one” quality they were looking for and prophesying.

The same goes for remote working/telecommuting. If it isn’t allowed on a general basis how can you expect employees to work from home on a weekend or late at night? That is still a bone of bitter contention from me. If one manager deems it acceptable and another doesn’t who do you listen to? The problem in many American companies is that these great assets are left to the discretion of each individual manager causing further derision amongst the employees overall. Anger and bitterness is rife within these environments simply because management is unable to look past their own personal ideas and see how things could work to their advantage and for the greater good of the company.

“Alexandra Jones, associate director of the Work Foundation in Britain states, "When bosses make decisions about who is doing a good job based on who spends the most time at their desks, then women are inevitably disadvantaged." Research shows that productivity is independent of time spent in the office.

Off my soap box now and back on track let’s discuss maternity leave and child care. I still believe despite this article that America in behind in this practice as well. The system is rife with problems that cannot be solved with one easy answer. Child care needs to have fewer stigmas attached to it and be more affordable and easily accessible overall. The quality of it and pay for its workers should also be universally equal. It’s tragic and abysmal what daycare workers are paid and here they are responsible for America’s future on a daily basis. Establish a better child care structure and we have a better future. While a government run system may sound scary it’s worked decidedly well for the Europeans.

Maternity leave MUST be paid. There is no question about that. A woman shouldn’t have to leave her job or feel that simply because she is a woman she is at a disadvantage. We’re miraculously made to carry children and birth them. Men are at a loss there. We shouldn’t be made to feel bad about that or have to hide the fact that we’re married and might have kids. I am guilty of that one too. I swore I would not be different just because I had a child in fear that I would be respected less in the workforce. Change is inevitable I soon realized. Changing how I dealt with work or how work dealt with me was not. Employers need to pay for maternity leave on both sides, for both parents if needed. They are after all in it together usually aren’t they? Taking time off to care for a young life should not be viewed as “a vacation”.

So while Europe struggles with getting women into the higher echelons of the workforce displaying to Americans that things are not always as rosy as we would like to think, it still illustrates that we as a country need to grasp what is not working for us as well. Maybe we need to go all bi-partisan on it and learn from each other. Paid leave, less stigma, universal child care, equal pay, less cynicism and more reality that neither system works, and we ALL need to find a better solution. Until then we’ll continue to have dissent and women will continue to fall behind on both sides of the globe cracking under the pressures of an archaic structure and our hour long commutes.

**Other interesting Mom/Work articles here and here.

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  1. Hi. Just came across your post today. This is a very timely discussion, and not one I see much in Mom's blogs. I have two small children and work outside the home and constantly think about this situation. I have met people in my line of work (architecture/design)from the EU who have come to the US because of some of the reasons mentioned in this article. They have to say on their CV whether they are married or how many kids they have, for example, and employers can discriminate and do. It makes one re-think what we have here, although it is by no means perfect. American women have to work hard to 'create' the right situation for work and family, but al least we can.

    I don't know the right answer, but it seems we need to change the concept of 'work' in some way. At least in my office, we are all considered profesionals, and responsible for our own work. No one makes us punch a timeclock. If someone has to leave early, then you do. You make it up when you can. Of course, many jobs are not like this, but careers should be. Of course, establishing a career is time consuming, and often coincides with childbearing years. It might help women to be able to start a career later, but I belive that is harder in Europe also. Older students are considered strange. Education is much more regulated; you are tracked into a job or career much earlier. We could benefit from some of their ideas about childcare and perhaps healthcare, but their ancient systems could use some shaking up.

    There is so much more to say on this subject, but that's enought for now. Thanks for your post.

  2. Well written and thought provoking. I started to respond and it turned into a two page essay why these things do not work. I will come back and visit with you.

    I was a Single DC Metro Working Mom. Daycare, Rush Hour traffic and working in a "man's world" where one particular man thought I should be at home, barefoot and pregnant standing in the kitchen. I moved out to the country and still adjusting. I miss the city shopping!

    Maternity Leave, with my last pregnancy my boss gave me the option of quiting or having only 2 weeks maternity leave.

    Childcare is expensive as it is. If they were to raise the pay to what I would consider respectible for those who take care of our little treasures, well, I would have to quit work and stay home on welfare. I would not be able to afford daycare. For the amount of money spent on daycare for my older two I could have put 4 children through college.


Thanks for commenting! It's always good to hear from a reader and not say, a robot.