October 19, 2008
Journalist Lisa Belkin, who coined the phrase "opt out," speculates on the future of work/life balance
Whether you took keen interest in -- or great offense at -- New York Times writer Lisa Belkin's 2003 piece "The Opt-Out Revolution," you can't deny the impact this six-year-old article has had on the nation's conversation about work/life balance. (For those who don't remember or never read the article, it examined the career and family choices of a number of highly educated professional women who dropped out of the workforce indefinitely to raise their kids.)
This week, Belkin, who's been writing the Life's Work feature in the New York Times for the past nine years, bid farewell to her column. In her final Life's Work piece, she mused about whether the current economic crisis would mean the end of some of the country's most innovative work/life balance programs. In her words:
"...some of the companies that have taken the biggest hits -- Lehman Brothers comes to mind -- happened to be prominent players in the life/work arena. No one is suggesting that the reason Lehman failed had to do with the resources spent on progressive recruitment and retention programs. But the sorts of initiatives that make work more family friendly are also the newest, and it is likely that when cuts have to be made in companies, these kinds of programs will be the first to go."
I get the sentiment, but I wouldn't write off all balance- and family-friendly workplace programs just yet. In fact, many innovators on the flex work front -- Sun Microsystems comes to mind -- have saved a bundle by doing away with thousands of onsite workspaces and allowing employees to instead work from home or the remote location of their choosing.
In this final column, Belkin also wondered how tough it will be for those parents who did have the financial means to "opt out" of the workforce for several years to compete for jobs against workers with fresher skills in today's tricky job market. In her words:
"I wonder, too, about the women who have left work for home, or have ratcheted back their ambitions during their years of raising children, and who are now scrambling to return to the work force as the stock market gyrates. Can someone who has been jobless by choice possibly compete in this market with someone who was laid off just weeks ago?"
I also wonder what's in store for these returning workers. My suggestions to women and men who took extended time away from the workforce to raise kids or care for an older relative:
- Start volunteering in your chosen profession right away and add that experience to your resume. There's no law that says relevant work experience has to be paid work experience.
- Take consulting, contract, or other temporary work if you can get it. These jobs can sometimes lead to a more permanent position.
- If your skills are rusty at best, get thee to a state WorkSource training facility asap. Even if they're not, be prepared to slot into a more junior position than the one you left, if need be.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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