Class Exercise

Organizational Payback from Work/Life Policies, A Suggested Work and Family Class Activity

Activity Description: 

In this exercise, students consider the business perspective for offering work-life programs and policies.


Ask students to meet in small groups of five to six members each to brainstorm some of the productivity implications of offering work/life programs, and to write their responses to the following questions on their flip charts: 

  • What are some productivity-related benefits of implementing effective polices to balance work/life integration? (Try to brainstorm as many factors that could be measured as you can. As needed, suggest that the students consider the impact on: attraction and retention; turnover; quality of customer service; absenteeism; tardiness; employees’ commuting time; costs of office administration; opportunities for cross-training; employee performance; and productivity.) 
  • Can you think of any productivity-related costs of not offering effective work/life policies? (Try to brainstorm as many factors that could be measured as you can.) 

Report Out/Discussion: 

After twenty minutes, ask each group to report out its responses and allow participants to ask questions. 


After the discussion, present a lecture on the organizational benefits of providing policies that support work/life balance. (Note: The following are detailed lecture notes along with appropriate questions for the participants.) 


As your groups' reporting of your brainstorming has shown, there are many potential productivity consequences of organizational supports for work/life integration. Clearly companies simply have to be more creative and thorough in assessing them. Unquestionably the issue of measuring work/life integration supports is complex. On one hand, it is critical to link these programs to the bottom line in order to gain support from management. Getting resources for new and existing programs will be aided by this approach. On the other hand, the effectiveness of such interventions as flextime, leaves of absence, and so on also often hinges on concomitant culture change at the informal level as opposed to the formal level. All the formal programs in the world won't work if employees are scared to use them or if they aren't effectively implemented. Nevertheless there are some data supporting the productivity impact of work/family programs. For approximately the next hour and a half, we will review some of the key issues related to assessing the productivity impact of these programs. The  lecture mainly focuses on child-care benefit programs since most of the published research has been done in this area. However, it is important to recognize that these are part of a larger issue of work/life balance. 

Measuring Payback from Work/life Programs

Interactive Question: Why do you think there is increasing pressure in many firms to measure payback from work and family issues? Take as many responses from participants as possible. 

Many managers see work/life programs as an employee entitlement or benefit that does little to help improve the bottom line. Although companies support many non-work programs where direct linkage to productivity may be difficult to measure (such as country club memberships and participation in civic groups), there is growing pressure to show the bottom-line impact of work/life programs. This pressure is due in part to the fact that work/life programs have historically been viewed by many managers as being in the benefits arena, which is under increasing scrutiny to 189 demonstrate cost containment and productivity effectiveness. Historically work/life programs have been viewed as a woman's issue as opposed to a mainstream employee-relations issue. They have also been perceived as overlooking some employee groups such as single and older employees. Work/life programs are also seen as an individual issue. The U.S. culture does not generally see how a helping person with personal problems helps the organization and society. Implicitly we assume that if an employee places a high priority on family or outside interests, he or she cannot place an equally high commitment on the workplace. Yet today all employees have families and other private involvements such as community, church, and recreation. In addition, most people will have at least one parent to care for as we look toward elder care as the work/family issue of the future. 

Allen Bergerson, director of personnel policy development at Eastman Kodak, has a quote underscoring the importance of investing in work/family programs: "When my management asks what the return on investment will be with the proposed family supportive policies, I tell them that I can't promise them anything in return. But I can say that the problems are costing us more than the programs will [Galinsky, Friedman, & Hernandez, 1991]." 

Interactive Question: Why should organizations bother trying to measure the bottom-line impact of something that may be very difficult to effectively measure? Take as many participant responses as possible. 

Given the increasing scarcity of corporate resources, it is critical to justify programs. A high level of support for work/family issues does cost money and/or require major corporate change. Culture change that supports work/life integration is more likely to occur if these initiatives are perceived as adding to organizational effectiveness.

Interactive Question: Can you think of any organizational political consequences of measuring work/life programs' impact on productivity? Take as many participant responses as possible. 

There are some political issues related to measurement strategy. On one hand, it may be good to link to other larger programs such as quality or diversity if these issues are viewed as being strategically important. On the other hand, it may not be good to be linked if work/family programs are competing for the same resources. 

Work and Family Programs and Their Productivity Effects

Now I'd like to review what the research tells us about the productivity effects of work/life initiatives. As you will see, many of the financial benefits you brainstormed earlier are included. 

Attraction and Retention of: 

  • Employees in general 
    In general, studies show users of work/family programs were more likely to recommend employment at their organization to a friend and were more likely to take family supportive programs into consideration in their decision to stay at the organization. 

  • Nontraditional employees  
    Programs such as flextime, part-time work, or a compressed workweek can help attract and retain 
    a wider range of employees including individuals  with family needs at the beginning, end, or 
    middle of the day; part-time students; or individuals with community-based commitments.  

  • Turnover Issues: 
    Failure to redesign the workplace and culture to be more family-friendly can mean loss of good employees. One study found that 35 percent of working men and women with young children have told their bosses they would not take jobs involving shift work, relocation, extensive travel, intense pressure, or lots of overtime [Rodgers, F., & Rodgers, C., 1989]. 

  • Loss of senior talent It is estimated that only 30 percent of women in senior positions have children compared to 95 percent of men in similar positions [Hedrick & Struggle, 1991]. It appears some women are forgoing having children while others are forgoing fast-track careers. Also there are more men in 190 dual-career marriages. Senior males today are  increasingly different as well, being more interested in balance. 

  • IBM study (work/family benefits ranks second out of sixteen for top performers) IBM did a study in which they asked employees to rank the importance of work/family benefits as a reason for joining the company. These benefits  ranked only fourteen out of sixteen on the average if all employees were included in the sample but jumped to six out of sixteen as a reason for staying! In addition, these benefits ranked second out of sixteen for top-performing employees! 

Customer Service Benefits 

Under a scheduled flextime program where some employees come to work early and other stay late, departments can extend phone coverage and customer service hours without any increase in budget [internal CIGNA document, undated]. 

Absenteeism and Tardiness: 

  • The average worker loses at least three days a year due to child-related issues. Flexible schedules and compressed workweeks can reduce absenteeism and tardiness. 
  • Absenteeism is lowered by an on-site center only if sick care or family backup care is available. It is well documented that the average worker (often female) loses at least several workdays a year due to child-related issues [Galinsky, Friedman, & Hernandez, 1991]. A compressed workweek may cut down on absenteeism and tardiness if the extra weekday off can be used for school conferences and doctor and other appointments. 
  • Absenteeism is lowered by an on-site center only if sick care or family backup care options are available employees can't bring sick kids to a center. Yet sick care can be very expensive to offer as a formal program. Letting parents provide care a few times a year may be cheaper. In many organizations it is already formal policy for parents to use their sick days to take care of ill children.  

Shorter Commuting Time: 

  • Home-based work allows for the recruitment  and retention of employees who are unable or unwilling to commute to the office five days a week. Employee productivity could improve for employees who need to be close to dependents for whom they provide care. 
  • Lower Office Administration Costs  Home-based work may help alleviate the office space crunch and help save costs while at the same time meeting employees' needs. 
  • Improved Cross Training and Productivity Job sharing in particular may reduce training time because if one sharer leaves, the other can train a replacement. Greater productivity can be  generated if job sharers bring complementary skills and abilities to the job, for instance, if each tends to be more than half committed to the job. Job sharing can provide an opportunity to enhance  team-building skills and may fit with other current cultural change efforts toward greater use of teams. 


  • May help some employee groups more than others. Being present for work is a minimum condition to perform (child-care benefits often lower absenteeism, tardiness, and interruptions, thereby enabling people to begin to focus on performing their jobs). 
  • Allows employees to be at the same starting line with other coworkers. 
  • Child care is a benefit that affects organizational membership behaviors-joining and staying at the organization, rather than motivating the  employee. (Supervisory, performance, and reward systems should provide this.) In the short term, child-care benefits may help some employee groups (such as women or people without family in the area) more than others. For example, one study [Kossek & Nichol, 1992] found that use of  a child-care center had the greatest positive effect on morale and behavior of female employees and employees who lacked familial backup care in the immediate vicinity. Employees for whom child-care-related absenteeism was low received higher performance ratings from supervisors than those who had higher child-carerelated absenteeism. Being at work is a minimum condition to perform. In other words, if one is not at work, one is unable to even begin to fulfill performance expectations. Work/ family benefits allow employees to be at the same starting line with other coworkers in running the race of good 191 performance instead of starting the race at a disadvantage-a few steps back from the starting line [Kossek, & Nichol, 1992]. 

Counterbalancing Labor Shortages: 

The Families and Work Institute's (1991) Corporate Reference Guide survey found that 55 percent of organizational respondents faced labor shortages of skilled technical and clerical workers. Labor market is key: in a tough competitive market where it is very difficult to attract and replace the workers you need, work/family friendliness may be the issue that gives you the competitive edge. SAS Corporation offers onsite care in its North Carolina facility and feels this benefit is a reason why its turnover is 30 percent less than the national average for similar type consulting firms.  


  • Thirty percent of adults say they experience high stress nearly every day. 
  • Stress-related diseases caused by tensions on and off the job have exploded, especially among women. 

A nationwide 1995 study by The Families and Work Institute shows that 30 percent of adults say they experience high stress nearly every day; even higher numbers report high stress once or twice a week [Galinsky, Bond, & Hernandez, 1993]. Stress-related diseases have exploded, especially among women, and jobs are a major factor. Workers' compensation claims related to stress began to jump during the 1980s. (Some stress-related diseases are depression, exhaustion, hypertension, heart disease, and gastric problems.) A more recent example comes from reports from the New York University Medical Center that found a 70 percent increase since 1990 in the number of managers and professionals  complaining of job related stress [Nash, 1994]. Studies also indicate that a majority  of employees are getting between sixty and ninety minutes less sleep a night than is optimal. Another factor contributing to stress is the notion of time poverty: while paid employment hours have increased, hours of household labor (cooking, cleaning, child care) have not necessarily decreased. [Schor, 1991.] Violence in the workplace is a growing trend that was relatively uncommon a decade or so ago. 

Employee Attitudes and Morale: 

  • Job satisfaction 
  • Organizational commitment and loyalty 
  • Lower litigation from disgruntled employees 

Besides stress, high work/family conflict has been linked to role conflict and role overload, and lower job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and loyalty. Some organizations think if you give employees an inch, they'll take a mile; however, it is more likely that if you give them an inch, they'll give you back a mile and be truly grateful [Grover & Crooker, 1995]. Employees who feel they have been treated well are less likely to resort to the courts to resolve personnel issues regarding their fair treatment in the workplace.  

Linkage to Quality: View People as a "Root Cause" 

A study at FELPRO (an innovative manufacturing firm of automobile gaskets located in Skokie, Illinois) found that family supportive policies positively affected work performance, flexibility, and openness to organizational change. The heaviest users of work/family policies also made the most employee suggestions [Lambert, Hopkins, & Easton, 1992]. 

Managers need to learn to "view people as a root cause." That is, poor quality doesn't come from not focusing enough on the customers; it comes from not viewing employees as the ultimate internal customer of the organization. If employees are well treated, high quality and high customer service should follow. Furthermore, currently organizations are designed to treat daily work/family problems as the exception to the rule. This approach, in the language of quality guru Deming, views work/family problems as special  cause variation. The defect that occurred (work/life problem) was an exceptional or unusual circumstance that should be corrected on a case-by-case basis. (Just like in the old version of the auto assembly plants where defects were corrected as an unusual case-by-case problem) [Deming, 1986]. We need to shift our frame and view work/life issues as common cause issues. All employees at one point or another are going to 192 experience problems in work/life integration but  the degree to which individuals are likely to experience work/life integration conflicts will vary. So instead we need to improve the system for all workers and let them self-manage problems better. If we redesigned our systems to promote flexibility in work and family integration, we wouldn't have to make all of these exceptions (special causes) to deal with work/family problems and requests. 

(Optional) You may make an overhead of the following quotations to display and discuss at the end of this section. The quotations were taken from field notes gathered by Cutcher-Gershenfeld, Kossek, & Sandling as background for the recent publication Organizational Dynamics [1997]. 

As several managers in a study on links between quality and work/family efforts commented: "A corporation's success depends on a quality, innovative, and dedicated work force; if you don't get the people thing right, you won't get the customer thing right." -Dow Manager 

"To get high quality, you need to be sensitive to the personal needs that employees have. There should not be a division between personal needs and what is going on at work." -Motorola Manager  

"You must believe that people are worth developing and that you manage by prevention. Think about the fact that you have this valuable commodity, this human being who works for the company. You want to continuously develop this. Hopefully, you will gain a long-term employee who is flexible, creative, and gives a lot to the organization. There are very few managers who are really good at managing the human resource and looking at the long-term picture of career development, work, family issues, and dealing with diversity. When these become integrated things, instead of add ons—that's when I think  we have gotten close to arriving." -Corning Manager 

Payback Measurement Issues: Some of the Nitty Gritty Need for Quality Research

  • Generally more anecdotal than rigorous 
  • Poor or no control groups, or no longitudinal data 
  • No long-term data matching specific employees before and after intervention 
  • Use of single items as opposed to psychometric scales Research on the productivity impact of work/life programs has generally been either flawed or nonexistent. Few rigorous studies have been done to systematically assess effectiveness. Most companies rely simply on qualitative self-report  data from employees. It is important to design studies using control groups and longitudinal data to assess the impact of supports on employees before and after an intervention was implemented. By not collecting long-term data matching specific employees (such as an employee's performance or absenteeism record both before and after an intervention was implemented), it is nearly impossible to evaluate the effects of programs. And when surveys are designed, they are usually not developed by individuals trained in psychometrics, so often single-item measures that tend to be highly unreliable are used. 

Examination of Currently Captured Data

Organizations must assess the effectiveness of existing measurement systems and then decide how much they want to spend on measurement and what it's worth to them. (Consider academic and consortium partnerships.) Existing HRIS systems may not have the data needed to capture productivity enhancement.  

Interactive Question: What kinds of data would be important to an organization's line/operation people? Take as many participant responses as you can. 

HR people may have a different perspective than the line management. Some items that can be measured include: 

-Tardiness (did it decrease when a flextime program was put in?) 193

-Recaptured productivity (are people absent less often, do people feel more likely to engage in extra-role behaviors because they feel additional commitment to the organization?) 

-Avoiding the three o'clock syndrome (workers calling home to make sure kids made it home from school) instead of spending the time focusing on their jobs. 

-Taking a long-term versus a short-term perspective of HR policies (do we have lower turnover, higher retention, higher morale and employee commitment?) 

Interactive Question: Do you have any suggestions based on either your current thinking or from the brainstorming done earlier in this session on some creative ways to measure payback? (Any creative accountants here?) 

Take as many participant responses as you can. Clearly selection and recruitment costs are reduced due to lower turnover but others such as improved cross-training and customer service coverage are examples of less obvious financial benefits. 

Tips and Troubleshooting

  • Carefully consider what to measure. 
    What information is important to gather? Is it more costly to hire and train a new employee or provide supportive policies such as transition schedules for a new parent coming back to work after parental leave? Aetna's estimated cost of hiring and training a new employee is about one and a half times an employee's salary. Many of Aetna's jobs required highly skilled claims adjusters that can be difficult to find [The Partnership Group, Annual Meeting, Philadelphia, personal communication, 1994]. 
  • Some issues can be legally tricky to study. 
    It might be legally problematic to ask potential recruits (especially women) about the importance of childcare programs as an attraction tool. (It would be safer to study all new hires but then researchers will have lost the sample and background of people who didn't join the company.) 
  • Look for naturally occurring experimental groups. One study [Kossek & Nichol, 1992] at a large health care organization compared the performance and attitudes of supervisors and users of an on-site child-care center with employees who were on the wait list for this benefit. These are great comparison groups because they isolate the effects of providing work/family benefits to working parents who have a need and interest in receiving company assistance (essentially your internal employee market for work/family  assistance). Yet most of the published literature compares employees using child-care programs with employees in the general employee population who are likely to systematically differ from center users (for example, more likely to be in traditional two-parent household with only one primary breadwinner). 
  • Compute job share benefits budget. Cost center managers budget about 20 percent of base salary for benefits and services. If two employees share one job and each earns a half-time salary, the benefits budget would be shared evenly. Each worker's benefits would be calculated as 20 percent of the half-time budget. 
  • Compute compressed workweek. Compute vacation, personal, and sick days on an hourly-as opposed to daily-basis. 
  • Current absenteeism policies may hide child-care assistance impact. If vacation, sick time, and personal days are rolled into one policy, it might not be possible to gather exact information on how much sick time was used. 
  • Comparisons across employee groups may be difficult. Sometimes there are no performance ratings for unionized employees or the existing performance appraisal systems are not valid. Consequently it is difficult to study performance impact of work/family programs.  
  • Exit interview data may be lacking. 
  • Because of legal constraints, HR personnel may not be able to ask people what they really want to know. By the time people are quitting they don't care any more and may not be totally frank. 

Future and Long-Term Perspective on Payback

Shift in Focus from Impact o f Single Policies to Impact o f Multiple Workplace Factors and Cultural Issues. Increasingly studies need to take a holistic approach and measure the impact of 194using multiple policies as opposed to a policy-by-policy assessment. For example, this will portray a more accurate picture of how families rely on different supports at different points in time. 

Limits of Measuring Payback 

  • Programs currently offered may be underused because they are not the ones employees need. Programs currently offered may not be the ones employees truly want, may have been adopted without a quality-needs assessment prior to implementation, or have been implemented ineffectively. For example, when American Savings Bank of Stockton, California, asked its employees what they thought of its award winning child-care program, they ranked it dead last on a list of seventeen benefits. With a 70 percent female workforce, officials had expected greater employee support. The benefit only served nine hundred of the four thousand workers. Also workers in different locations of the same firm may want different things. For example, employers at Sears Roebuck found that workers in Charlotte, North Carolina, needed more day-care slots in the region while the last thing employees in traffic-clogged Los Angeles wanted was on-site child care requiring them to commute to work with children. 
  • Some HR policies discourage the use of work/life policies. Headcount allocation may discourage the use of job sharing/part-time work. To overcome this, in 1991 CIGNA switched to a system that counts a regular part-time employee as one-half of a headcount. Now a job sharer who works more than 17.5 hours per week but less than the standard hours for full-time will count as .5 of a person. Therefore splitting a job will have no effect on headcount allocation.  
  • Formal polices may be underused if people are scared of using the programs. Work/life programs are often considered a "woman's issue"-men are discouraged from using them. And it is assumed that employee's who place a high priority on family or outside interests are not committed to the workplace. 
  • The most important change employees desire is having more flexibility. Research consistently shows that greater time flexibility rather than specific dependent care benefits is the family-friendly policy most desired by employed parents [Galinsky, Friedman, & Hernandez, 1991]. What employees really want may not necessarily be direct child-care aid but flexibility. Workers often say they want flexible schedules, a change that requires management training and cultural change. A company may find it easier to spend over a million dollars on a new child-care center than to change the way it manages people [Shellenbarger, 1992]. 


In conclusion, payback from work/life programs can be measured if one is creative about it. Further, in addition to the financial benefits we have discussed today most employers would concur that one cannot put a high enough price tag on good employee morale, lower turnover, commitment and retention, and a quality reputation as a very good place to work.

Activity Source: 

Kossek, E. E. (n.d.). Organizational payback from work/life policies: A suggested work and family class activity. Retrieved from

Theories to “Real World” Decisions: A Paper Project

Activity Description: 
  • Author: Kathryn Hynes, Penn State University


This project is designed to help students develop a deeper understanding of theories about maternal labor force participation by comparing theoretical models to the actual experiences of people who have children. The project includes reading a review of theories of maternal labor force participation (Hattery 2001), conducting a semi-structured qualitative interview, and writing an empirical paper that uses the interview data as a test of the theoretical models.

Rationale for the Project and Goals for Student Learning:

Lower-level undergraduates often have a difficult time getting interested in comparing and contrasting competing theoretical frames. They also often have a hard time in learning about the strengths and weaknesses of various empirical strategies. This project is designed to facilitate these processes by having them examine whether people’s “real lives” fit into, or contradict, existing theoretical models of behavior. Students also gain hands-on experience with the research process by learning about and completing a qualitative interview. This practical experience provides a good opportunity to help student become better consumers of empirical research, creating easy opportunities to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of quantitative and qualitative methods, the challenges of conducting high quality research, and the complex interactions between theory and data. Students typically enjoy practicing and conducting the interviews, and having collected data themselves, become quite engaged in the process of integrating theory and empirical findings.

Project Description:

In a 200-level sociology course on work and family, students begin the semester by learning about changes in women’s and men’s work and family roles over the past decades. After establishing a basic understanding of trends, students are asked to read a chapter from Angela Hattery’s book Women, Work, and Family (2001) that reviews theories about maternal labor force participation. We discuss these theories, having one student describe each theory to the class, to ensure that students have a basic understanding of the models and a chance to ask clarifying questions. Students are then introduced to the paper writing project.

In order to ensure that students clearly understand the project, they are given an extensive written set of guidelines. These guidelines provide as much detail as possible about the project, including the goals and rational for the project, the timeline, details on what they will do for each component of the project and during each class period, and information about what they are expected to include in each section of their papers.

The next two class periods provide time for students to learn about qualitative research methods and practical considerations involved in conducting research. At many universities, interviews conducted by students during class projects require IRB review and protection of human subjects. For this project, I developed the consent form and interview protocol (Appendix A) that the students would use and received IRB review before the semester started. During the first methods class, students can learn the rationale for human subjects protections, the protocol for protecting confidentiality and data that will be used for the project, and practicing (via role playing) asking their participant to be part of the study and getting informed consent. For the next class, students are asked to complete the human subjects training required by many universities.

The second part of the class period is a good time to go over the interview guide briefly so that students become familiar with the types of questions that they will be asking. If time permits, this is also a good opportunity to begin discussing the strengths and limitations of quantitative and qualitative research by considering the kinds of questions that are asked and the types of information that answers will provide, as well as the validity and generalizability of the findings. Now that students are familiar with the type of questions they will be asking, they are each asked to come to class the next time with two names of people that they would like to interview (in case one person is not interested in participating). The only criteria are that the respondents must be over 18 and have children.

The next class period is focused on learning how to conduct interviews. Faculty who have not done qualitative research may want to ask a colleague who has done qualitative research to help train the students. This class period focuses on discussing the role of the interviewer in the collection of high quality data, including topics such as the professional demeanor of an interviewer, ways to encourage detailed answers without “leading” respondents to various conclusions, strategies for asking probing questions to elicit additional information about interesting issues raised by respondents, and strategies for bringing interviews back on track when respondents move off topic. Students then team up and practice interviewing each other, which provides them with good experience and provides me with an opportunity to correct their techniques. They are encouraged to think about good “probing questions” and jot these down as they are practicing. Students are then given a reasonable amount of time to establish contact with their respondents and to conduct their interviews.

Once interviews have been conducted, students are asked to discuss their interviews in class. Several students are asked to describe their respondents and some of the answers that they found most interesting. We then discussed, as a class, how the stories that their respondents told about their lives matched or contradicted the theories that we read about maternal labor force participation. This is a good time to revisit the conversation about the strengths and limitations of qualitative data, now that students have experience with this technique and can think concretely about what went well and what was challenging.

Students then write an 8-9 page research paper in a standard academic format, including abstract, introduction, theory, data, methods, results, and discussion sections. The goal of their paper is to integrate their empirical findings from their interviews with the theoretical models described in the Hattery (2001) book.


Hattery, Angela. 2001. Women, Work and Family. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. “Theoretical Paradigms for Understanding Maternal Labor Force Participation.” p. 68-89.

Appendix A: Interview Protocol

I’d like to ask you a series of questions about how you made decisions about work and family over the course of your life, but particularly when you had young children.

  • First, let’s talk about your life before you had children. Before you had children, did you expect that you would work continuously as an adult or did you expect that you would leave employment for some amount of time to raise children?
    • What were your spouse/significant other’s expectations about this?
  • When you learned that you would be having your first child, were you working? If so, what kind of work were you doing? Did you enjoy it?
    • Was your spouse/significant other working? What kind of work was s/he doing and did s/he enjoy it?
  • I’d like to understand what you (and your spouse/significant other if applicable) decided to do to arrange your work and family life/lives after the birth of your first child, and why you made those decisions.
    • For instance, did either of you take time off from work when the baby was born (vacation or sick time, longer leave, quit job)? If so, for how long?
    • Then what happened? Did either of you work during your child’s first year? If so, was that full-time or part-time work?
    • Why did you choose this strategy?
      • Prompt here for whether different theories applied if the respondent does not directly address a particular theory in their initial answer. For instance:
      • Do you feel that certain work and family arrangements are better for children? Did your opinions about this influence your decisions?
      • Did you consider your financial needs while making these decisions? If so, how did your financial situation influence your decisions?
      • Did you consider factors such as the cost, availability and quality of child care in your area and if so, how did this influence your decisions?
    • How did you feel about these decisions?
    • How did your spouse/significant other feel about these decisions?
    • Did you feel that your family and friends supported or criticized your decisions and if so, why?
    • What happened next? Did you (and your spouse/significant other if applicable) use this same arrangement for several years or did you make changes? Why did you make those changes?
    • Do you have more than one child? If so:
      • Did you make similar or different decisions around the birth of your other children?
      • Repeat questions 3.1-3.6
    • Looking back, how do you feel about the decisions about balancing work and family that you made when your children were young? Would you do anything differently?
    • Is there anything else that you feel it is important for me to know to understand your decisions about work and family?

Thank you for participating in this interview!

Activity Source: 



Sweet, Stephen, Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, Joshua Mumm, Judith Casey, and Christina Matz. 2006. Teaching Work and Family: Strategies, Activities, and Syllabi. Washington DC: American Sociological Association.

Costs of Childcare: An In Class Activity

Activity Description: 

Author: Monika J. Ulrich, University of Arizona

Purpose: To help students understand the real expense of childcare and how difficult it is to successfully balance work and family, especially for low income families.

Steps: Obtain names and phone numbers of several childcare centers; Obtain access to laptops; Prepare handouts with local information.

This activity could also be adapted as a take home assignment.

As a group, we make a list of all the things that families need in order for both parents to continuously remain in the workplace and raise children the way that they want. I encourage students to think about how they want to raise their old children. That list usually includes paid maternity leave for at least one year (because most students do not want to put an infant in daycare), paternity leave for at least a week, child care reimbursement from the age of 1 until the child is in school, flextime, flexplace, sick leave, health care benefits, a child care center near the workplace, a private location to pump milk at the office (because most students recognize the benefits of breast milk over formula), and enough income to meet additional expenses.

I explain to students that we are going to figure out if it is possible to raise a child the way we want in the local area.

I divide students into groups of about four students each. I pass out assignments below to different groups (in larger sections, multiple groups will receive the same assignment).

I give students about 20 minutes to complete the assignment as a group. I make sure that students have cell phones available in groups that require phones. (Typically, students volunteer to use their cell phones). If possible, I arrange to have extra computers with internet access available to students in Group 1 or 2 (either by asking students who have them to bring laptops or by using University resources). For Groups 3 and 4, I provide different lists of names and phone numbers of childcare centers in the area.

After students have completed the assignment, we discuss the results. For each item, we start by talking about professors. Often, groups that focus on the professors have more success. Then, we discuss the lower income family. Sometimes, students will propose that the lower income family should simply go on welfare. This is a good opportunity to talk about what welfare will and will not provide.

After we have discussed both groups, I then ask students to think about how they would meet their needs if they were disabled, supporting elderly parents, had low education or intelligence, were mentally or physically ill, recently left an abusive spouse, trying to go back to school to get more education, had more than one or two children or had a child with a special need.

Group Assignments
Click on the document below to view the specific assignments for each group (in PDF format). Document will open in a new browser window.

Activity Source: 

Sweet, Stephen, Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, Joshua Mumm, Judith Casey, and Christina Matz. 2006. Teaching Work and Family: Strategies, Activities, and Syllabi. Washington DC: American Sociological Association.

Lobbying For and Against Paid Family Leave, A Suggested Work and Family Class Activity

Activity Description: 

The goal of this exercise is for students to become familiar with and learn how to represent several competing view points on family leave policies and practices. Students should be familiar with the notion of family leave before beginning.

The concrete task is to take positions on a proposal for paid family leave. Students should work together in small groups to articulate the position of a particular interest group on a paid family leave proposal in preparation for "lobbying" a "Senator." Students might prepare in advance outside of class for the "lobbying day" or in class, depending on how in-depth the instructor wants them to go.

It is important for students to work together in small groups to articulate the position of their assigned interest group. It is important for students to "lobby" the "Senator" with the rest of the class as audience. And it is important for each group of students to listen to the lobbying efforts of the other groups.

Interest groups to represent include: labor, child care workers, advocates for child health and well being, the aged, the chronically ill, the disabled, manufacturers, local chambers of commerce, the United States Chamber of Commerce, small businesses, large employers and human resources professionals.

The role of the "Senator" could be played by a class visitor with actual policy experiences or by a small group of students assigned to play the "Senator" role. During "lobbying" discussions, the "Senator" should make it clear that both the Senator's time to put into pushing for positions and the public money available for funding programs are scarce resources being allocated among a variety of competing interests and that the "Senator" must keep re-election in mind as well. For example, the "Senator" might say to the feminists that they just haven't been getting the votes out or to business that the "Senator" cannot afford to alienate labor, etc.

Examples of proposed paid family leave laws can be found on the web site of the National Partnership for Women and Families. The existing California paid family leave law could be used. Or the instructor could simply propose that the existing federal family leave law be amended to require paid leave.

Activity Source: 

Content contributed by Elizabeth Rudd as a Suggested Work and Family Class Activity for the Sloan Networks’ Resources for Teaching section.

Exploring Sex and Gender Roles, A Suggested Work and Family Class Activity

Activity Description: 

To identify the differences between sex and gender, and how these roles affect work and family.


  1. Ask students to list characteristics (traits and behaviors) of the ideal worker in American culture, and write their answers on a flip chart sheet. When finished put the list aside. 
  2. Write the words "sex" and "gender" on the board. Ask students to define and explain the difference between these two words.  
  3. Ask the students to identify characteristics and behaviors of idealized masculinity (i.e. what type of masculinity is reinforced by our society). Write answers on flip chart sheet.  
  4. Repeat Step 3, using characteristics and behaviors of idealized femininity 
  5. Place lists on the board, on either side of the sex and gender definitions. 
  6. On the board where you have written the categories of sex and gender, draw a solid line between female and feminine and male and masculine. Ask students how girls generally learn femininity and how boys learn masculinity. 
  7. On the board where you have written the categories of sex and gender, draw a dotted line between female and masculine. Ask students what happens if a female is masculine. 
  8. Repeat Step 7, by drawing the dotted line between male and feminine. 
  9. Have students create "ideal wife/mother" and "ideal husband/father" lists on board. 
  10. Hang the list of "ideal worker characteristics and behaviors" in the space in the middle, over the top of the sex and gender definitions. 
  11. In small groups, have students discuss the following questions: 
    • What do you notice about the feminine list versus the ideal worker list? 
    • What do you notice about the masculine list versus the ideal worker list? 
    • What do our lists have to do with careers? 
    • What do our lists say about the pay gap between men and women? 
    • What do our lists say about the glass ceiling? 
  12. Have each group share their answers with the class. 
  13. In small groups, have students discuss the following questions:
    • How easy is it for women to get economic power in this gendered system? 
    • How easy is it for mothers to get economic power in this gendered system?
    • What do our lists have to do with careers? 
    • What about men who want to know and nurture their children or elderly parents? 
    • How does this affect you?…make you feel as a man?…as a woman?

OPTIONAL: Give students copies of the handout "definitions" (available for download in MS Word format). Go over the definitions in the handout. Ask students why they think the gender differences exist. Discuss explanatory theories from biological determinism to social constructionism and explanations in between.

Activity Source: 

Content contributed by Teresa Rothausen as a Suggested Work and Family Class Activity for the Sloan Networks’ Resources for Teaching section.

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