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The Importance of Work/Family Programs and Policies

The American workforce has changed over the last several decades. Today’s families are more likely to be headed by dual-earner married couples or by a single parent who works. With both women and men in the paid labor force, a growing proportion of families have no adult at home to care for children or to manage or provide care for elderly relatives. Instead, these workers rely on systems of care that can be costly, undependable, incompatible with hours of work, or in short supply. Today’s families are struggling to meet multiple responsibilities.

AFSCME members are also affected by these changes. According to the union’s most recent membership survey (1997), nearly 7 out of 10 of the members surveyed who are under age 45 have children 18 years old and under living in their household, and one-third have children under the age of 6. Moreover, many AFSCME members are at the age where they are caring for their parents or other elderly relatives.

Employer policies often do not take into consideration the changing demographics of families and their responsibilities. One national poll found that one-third of American workers report that work prevents them from meeting their responsibilities at home somewhat or very often. The survey found that these workers want more flexibility in their work schedules.1 Yet the majority of employers are unaware of or are unconcerned about the impact of rigid personnel policies on an employee’s ability to take care of their family responsibilities.

Also employers don’t realize the cost to them in lost productivity and in turnover. For example, studies estimate that child care arrangements fall through at least once in a 3-month period for most working parents,2 and each employee who is involved in eldercare costs an employer more than $3,000 a year in absences, work interruptions, added supervisory workload, and medical and replacement costs.3 Employers also may incur increased hiring and training costs when employees resign because the workplace is unable to accommodate their work/family needs.


1 National Partnership for Women & Families, Family Matters, 1998

2 U.S. Dept. of the Treasury, Investing in Child Care: Challenges Facing Working Parents and the Private Sector Response, 1998.

3 A major study of the cost of caregiving on U.S. business by Metlife estimated that the aggregate cost to business in productivity is $11.4 billion per year. Cited in U.S. Department of Labor Women's Bureau, "Work and Eldercare: Facts for Caregivers and Their Employers," Factsheet No. 98-1, May 1998.

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