June 2000 // Volume 38 // Number 3 // Commentary // 3COM1

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The Gift of a New Generation

What have we given up with today's changes in hiring practices? Could it be possible that the American workplace could be more productive by encouraging families to be successful? One author presents her views on the separation of work and family and its impact on our new young professionals.

Nancy G. Stehulak
Extension Agent and Chair
Ohio State University Extension
Paulding, Ohio
Internet address: Stehulak.1@osu.edu

It seems that not so very long ago, the workplace had a more effective form of finding new employees than what is in place today. We used to try to find a match between the employee and the job. We tried to find that match using questions that could provide a snapshot of what the employee expected and what the employer needed. We asked questions like "Where do you see yourself in 10 years?" or "Why are you interested in a position with us?" We asked "Are you married?" or "Will you be living in the area?" or said, simply, "Tell me about your family."

I know. Now we can't ask some of those questions because the courts don't like them. It's easier, we're told, to separate work and family. As a nation, we have been forced to see our work lives as separate from our home lives. Two distinct parts, even though they belong to one individual.

But might we be overlooking something? Could it be that now we have less than we had before? Could it be possible that America could enhance business and production in the workplace by encouraging the personal success of individuals and families?

A good match between an organization, on the one hand, and a prospective employee and his or her entire family unit, on the other, is still important to good business today, even though we can no longer recognize the family as we interview.

Today's businesses, including the Extension Service, have invested great amounts of time and money in the development of vision statements for their groups. Statistics tell us that organizations that know where they want to go are much better at accomplishing their goals. Recognizing where you want to go is an important step in reaching new horizons.

Families, though, when asked their vision of the future, increasingly respond with "survival." To remain intact today, businesses must aspire beyond mere survival. So must families. And that can't happen when work and family are put in opposition.

Stress is rising in the workplace. There is continual pressure to separate our family from work life. More professionals are working entire states away from their families. Employers and supervisors are encouraged to be careful about questions relating to home life to avoid lawsuits. People are confused about their allegiance to their family and their allegiance to work. We are told by law to separate these entities, and we currently believe this to be good business.

When we read statistics about the length of the workweek growing, we can only wonder how and when actual caring of the family occurs. Does it happen in the time left over after our workday and the additional work of home life? Does the family become used to hearing "Hurry, I cannot be late for work" and "I am sorry, but I will have to work late again today"? What messages do our families receive?

Some of our new young professionals have been raised in home environments and parented by adults who have given them messages about the importance of work first and family, later. When we see those young professionals coming into the workplace and we shake our heads and mutter about "paying your dues," we might want to listen closely. We might hear them say they have already paid their dues by growing up in homes where family needs were taken care of only after job expectations were complete. They are not interested in that kind of workplace anymore.

Maybe this is the real gift of a new generation.