Americans work longer hours than people in most other developed countries, including renowned workaholics in Japan. As a result, work-family conflict is much higher in the United States than in other nations.

The typical American middle-income family put in an average of 11 more hours a week in 2006 than it did in 1979, according to a new report from the Center for American Progress and the Center for Work-Life Law at the UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco.

A distressing 90% of American mothers and 95% of American fathers report having work-family conflict. Employers should take note because this problem can impact productivity at work, overall health, retention rates and job satisfaction. And there’s one more reason for employers to pay attention to this trend: a recent rise in the number of lawsuits against companies for discriminating against their employees who have family responsibilities. Click here for the latest EEOC guidance on treating caregivers fairly.

Americans have fewer government-mandated family-support laws than employees in the rest of the developed world. U.S. employees can’t count on the law to guarantee paid maternity leave, paid sick days, limits on mandatory overtime, proportional wages for part-time work or the right to request work-time flexibility without retaliation, according to the report. Unlike Americans, workers in other developed countries have those protections.

“The United States today has the most family-hostile public policy in the developed world due to a long-standing political impasse. The only major piece of federal legislation designed to help Americans manage work and family life, the Family and Medical Leave Act, was passed in 1993, nearly two decades ago,” the report states.

The researchers call for government subsidies for child care programs and paid family and medical leave, as well as policies to address caregiver discrimination.

“No matter where Americans stand on the income spectrum, they need short-term and extended paid leave and new workplace flexibility rules, as well as high-quality, affordable childcare and freedom from discrimination based on family responsibilities,” the report states.
Workplace flexibility tends to boost, not hinder, the bottom line of employers, the researchers note. That’s because it can boost productivity and reduce turnover costs, absenteeism and presenteeism.

Susan Seitel, the president of WFC Resources and a workplace flexibility expert, offers these suggestions in her blog: “Provide incentives for managers to improve and reward them for being flexible and supportive. Offer flextime, job-sharing, telework, compressed workweek and part-time [work]. Train managers to be more supportive when personal issues and emergencies arise. Address workload issues, redesign work to avoid duplication and plan ahead to allow for remote work for personal or family emergencies.”

Guest blogger Leah Carlson Shepherd is a former managing editor of Employee Benefit News and author of “The Three Rs of Employee Benefits: Recruiting, Retention and Rewards.”

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