Alvin Toffler heralded a culture shift that was already beginning in the 1950s – a move to what he called the 3rd Wave. He told of a way of life that would no longer be predicated on the  industrialization.  He spoke of a world where mass marketing, mass control, standardization, centralization, concentration, and synchronization would be out-dated. He talked about such absurd concepts as the "paperless society".

We have a ways to go before we see the paperless society become a reality, I'm afraid. It's tough to imagine that when I look at my desk covered with paper generated by my own computer. Seems all we've done is move the costs of printing from the marketers and corporations to the consumers. Although, Apples newest iPad may well be the tool that finally plants our feet firmly on that path..

But, that's not the only exciting news. A new dialog has begun heralding a major shift that could open new horizons for the disenfranchised small businesses and professionals and for countless out-of-work Americans.  A Conversation on Workplace Flexibility is one of the most exciting events occurring on the national scene (although, frankly, I haven't seen much mention in mainstream media.) The forum brings together industry leaders at all levels of business and governmental agencies including SBA, the Council on Women and Girls, and countless others to explore the the direction that our lives and work practices will take. 

Flexibility is a huge concept that too many have not yet been able to wrap their heads around. It takes many different shapes, depending on the industry. In some cases it means being able to bring children to work, in others it allows workers to deviate from the traditional 9-5 / 5 day a week life, and in yet others. In some others, it even insists that workers must limit their working hours – not because there's nothing to do but because personal life is valued and it's perceived as good to have a life outside the job. What a concept!

But this is not something that is being plastered on from the outside. It's what young and old, top level professionals and workers on the front line have been saying for years. Life has gotten very complex. Families have pressing responsibilities to children and elders that just can't be attended to in a rigid workplace. Men need personal/family time as much as women today.  It benefits seniors and the 20-somethings, who both require personal control over their lives, equally well.

More important, there's a new perception that people (now called "talent" or "assets" ) are a company's most valuable asset.

These are not a new concepts. Entrepreneurs, freelancers, and some corporations like IBM and Sarah Lee have been implementing all kinds of flexibility and work-life balance for years – and very successfully. Michelle and Barack both have grown up and have been fully engaged in the search for life-work balance. They're excellent examples of how flexibility enhances the successful realization of a worker's full potential.

There have been some significant challenges and lessons learned along the way. But those who have embraced work-life balance in their corporate culture report that they have significantly improved their environments, the morale of their workers and their bottom line.

So what's the resistance?  Why have so many employers' eyes glazed over when applicants attempt to speak of telecommute or varied work schedules? It seems that this kind of shift has to come from the top down… Presidents of Corporations, Boards of Directors, Top Management all need to embrace – and practice – the attainment of life-work balance. Some are waiting for proof positive that flexibility works and how to implement it into their corporate culture. They need to demonstrate that workers will not be penalized or passed over for promotions when they seek accommodation to meet their  And they need trust that their employees are mature adults, responsible enough to deliver productivity without being micro-managed. Middle Management and Front Line Managers, often afraid that they'll be phased out, need to re-focus on productivity rather than time management.

It's definitely a two-way street that encompasses: trust, accountability and commitment to the common good…the continued success of the company and the well-being of those who contribute to that.

It resistance boils down to fear of the unknown and a fear of what happens when those in control share that control. But ,those who have begun to apply the principals of flexibility in the workplace have clearly shown that this new trend in the workplace can, and does, work.

Finally the conversation has begun. Now, even government agencies have seen the results and are serious about learning more, and implementing,  those strategies that prove most beneficial and needed. But it's up to each one of us to get pro-actively involved. Here's some ways…

  • Watch the Conversation on Workplace Flexibility videos I strongly encourage everyone engaged in running or working for a business or seeking employment to make time to watch them
  • Keep an eye out for more of these types of events on a local level. They'll be coming to a location near you.
  • Check out websites like USA.gov, especially the tabs for Citizens and for Businesses and Nonprofits, the WhiteHouse Blog, OpenCongress.org, your own state's website (In Illinois begin with http://www.illinois.gov/  and others
  • Speak up! Each website has a blog or a contact form, email addresses and/or phone numbers. Even the WhiteHouse has contact information and highly competent people standing ready to help. Use them! Voice your concerns, ask the tough questions and keep asking until you get the answer you're looking for. Don't wait for the media and pundits to do the work for you.
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