the WHITE HOUSEPresident Barack Obama

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Workplace Flexibility: An American Imperative

The word is spreading far and wide: Workplace flexibility is not a “nice to have” – it’s a business and national security imperative. Last week, a new partnership dedicated to sharing best practices and research on workplace flexibility was formed between the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the world’s largest association devoted to human resource management, and the Families and Work Institute (FWI), which conducts leading research on the changing workforce, family, and community. The truth about innovative workplace flexibility policies is catching on: flexibility about when one works, where one works, or how much one works can help employees balance work and personal responsibilities, while simultaneously improving employers’ bottom lines through greater productivity, lower turnover, and reduced absenteeism. In fact, workplace flexibility is a must-have to keep America competitive in a 21st century global economy.

During the announcement of this partnership that I attended last week, the White House Forum on Workplace Flexibility that the President and First Lady hosted here at the White House last March was characterized as “historic” and as being a catalyst for lifting this significant issue to a national stage. We are more than pleased that the President’s leadership on workplace flexibility, an issue that is so important to him and the First Lady, is helping spur an even greater and broader movement to have organizations adopt flexible workplace policies.

In attendance and speaking at the event was Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, whose comments about the importance of workplace flexibility always inspire. While representatives from the business community emphasized that workplace flexibility is not a frivolous employee benefit or recruitment talking point but a critical business investment, Admiral Mullen took this sentiment further, reminding the audience that “[Workplace flexibility] is a strategic imperative for our country.” The economic and national security implications of rigid and uncompromising workforce policies came across clearly. Admiral Mullen emphasized how the people in the military are its most important resource and that there is a need to fully and truly understand the needs of military families. “The home must be the focal point of our efforts,” he said. Admiral Mullen emphasized that the families of service members drive the success of the military. He charged the military with appreciating the totality of what it means to raise a family these days and to understand the strains imposed on families by strenuous and inflexible hours. “The nation simply cannot afford to lose [the] talent and experience [of star performers choosing between the military and their families]…those 25 to 35 year-old captains…if we keep those ones in, our military is going to be fine for decades to come. And the opposite is true as well.” Now, that’s a pretty powerful statement.

The White House is delighted to celebrate the military’s leadership in promoting workplace flexibility, and we look forward to continued efforts surrounding the greater adoption of workplace flexibility policies across America.

Avra Siegel is a Special Assistant for the National Economic Council