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Work-Life Balance Research Initiatives

Dr. Barbara Silver

SilverThe American workplace is changing dramatically, as women and men are now represented equally in the workplace, as dual-earner couples become the norm, and as the workforce ages and becomes more culturally diverse. Family demands now sit squarely in the middle of the worker-workplace relationship. As work attitudes and norms change and as workers' role demands become more intense and multi-faceted, workers are demanding more flexibility in how, when, and where they perform their jobs. The benefits of providing workplace flexibility have by now been well documented and are bi-directional. Policies such as paid family leave, job sharing, dual career hiring, telework, tenure clock stops, and myriad others have been shown to reap benefits on both individual and institutional levels. Fostering flexibility and an atmosphere of trust, respect, and responsiveness to workers' needs results in, for example, increased organizational citizenship behaviors (OCBs) worker satisfaction, commitment, productivity, retention and engagement, and reduced absenteeism, stress, and attrition.

A national movement is energetically underway to help America transform its workplaces. Organizations, initiatives, and resource sites abound, and include: Families and Work Institute, Sloan Work and Family Research Network, National Clearinghouse on Academic Worklife, WorldatWork, Alliance for WorkLife Progress, Boston College Center for Work and Family, Center for Worklife Law, Corporate Voices for Working Families, Work, Family, and Health Network, Center for Work-Life Policy, Workplace Flexibility 2010, and many others. Many of these are affiliated with universities. Boston College, for example, is a national leader in this arena. The URI Schmidt Labor Research Center also understands workplace flexibility and work-life integration to be a current and highly relevant topic of research and advocacy, and is now focusing research attention in this direction.

Work-Life at URI. At URI, a Work-Life Committee (WLC) was formed in 2004, an outgrowth of the ADVANCE project and the President's Commission on the Status of Women. In 2008, it became a standing Presidential Committee, with about 15 members and Helen Mederer, Professor of Sociology, as its chair. The WLC is very active, and has had many successes, including playing a significant role in the passage of a paid parental leave policy, designing and spearheading both a dual career hiring policy for faculty, and a lactation support policy for all women at URI. With ADVANCE, the WLC has sponsored conferences, speakers, topical lunches, literature dissemination, and other initiatives. A work-life portal website was created (, as well as a work-life page on the ADVANCE site ( and the WLC is currently working with Human Resources to integrate all sites into one effective work-life site managed through HR.

As the ADVANCE project is coming to a close, the WLC has campaigned to have a work-life position be identified in Human Resources, as many progressive universities and companies have already done. A part-time position was approved by the Administration a year ago, though no movement has occurred to date to fill that position. While the WLC will remain active, without resources, or committed support from Human Resources, the pace of progress will be glacial.

The WLC recognizes that the Human Resources Administration and the URI Chapter of the AAUP have not yet embraced these initiatives as essential priorities as the URI workforce demographics continue to shift. We at the SLRC will continue to partner with the WLC to encourage a modernization of URI's perspective. As well, we are pursuing extramural funding to engage in work-life research.

Research Pursuits. The SLRC is currently seeking funding for the following topics of interest:

We welcome new ideas, funding leads, or participation on any of these projects.