What to Do About the Brain Drain
"Brain Drain" (Cover Story, Sept. 20) fails to mention the cause of this crisis. We have failed to develop a systematic method for developing those who will be in charge. We have relied on personal-development programs, subjective feedback mechanisms, and MBA programs taught by people who have never worked in business to develop the knowledge required to lead. We have settled for the use of abstract terminology to define the skills and abilities required and then embarked on development paths that have precipitated this current dilemma.
The math is easy: There are not enough retiring managers choosing to remain in the workforce to bridge the gap between skills required and skills needed. The consequences of this will become apparent in the years to come as our best companies become unable to seize opportunities in the future.
Your article overlooked a particularly effective way to retain the knowledge and expertise of departing executives: capturing their "war stories" and lessons learned in a digital video database. Using technology originally developed to preserve the knowledge of logistics planners from the gulf war air-and-sea lift, we have conducted on-camera interviews for government agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and Veterans Administration, as well as dozens of private-sector firms. And unlike retired executives retained to counsel only senior decision makers, this can provide every employee with instant access to an organization's best experts.
Cognitive Arts Corp.
ChicagoReturn to top
Are Two Incomes Really Necessary?
As a nation we are suffering from our own success. If our overstuffed economy, with more jobs, more money, and more stuff, has left us with too little time and too much stress, it's time to question our priorities. A smaller economy with fewer (full-time) jobs, smaller houses, not so many cars, and less stuff is a logical solution to the time squeeze ("Wooing minivan moms," Working Life, Sept. 20).
When a minivan is a family's only access to life outside the home, it's a waste of thousands of dollars and countless hours of leisure time each year. Sprawling suburbs helped build today's economy, but they are a lousy place to live.
We seem to be so focused on bigger houses, sports-utility vehicles, elaborate vacations, etc., that two incomes have become a necessity. I don't consider myself a "religious righter" by any stretch of the imagination, but I have to concur that someone needs to stay at home with the kids. A recent survey of 8-year-old boys claims that they consider a mom at home as the No. 1 status symbol--not Nintendo or an Expedition.
Perhaps the politicians should focus their efforts on getting one parent out of the workforce, maybe with a tax credit for a parent who stays at home.
Temecula, Calif.Return to top
Work and Family: A Difficult Dance
Thank you for "9 to 5 isn't working anymore" (Working Life, Sept. 20). However, I take issue with two assertions. First, the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides up to 12 weeks of leave, not six months. Second, the statement that the FMLA is "not easing the burden for working parents" is simply untrue. Since 1993, the FMLA has helped an estimated 24 million women and men care for their loved ones without losing their jobs or health insurance.
On the other hand, author Michelle Conlin is right to point out the limits of unpaid leave: Too many people still cannot afford to take the unpaid leave the FMLA provides. The bipartisan Family Leave Commission found that cost is the main reason people do not take needed leave. It also found that 1 out of every 10 FMLA users is forced on to public assistance while on leave. As the population ages, the need for family leave is only going to rise.
The good news is that across the country, concerned policymakers, researchers, and advocates for women, children, senior citizens, caregivers, people with disabilities, business, and labor are joining the Campaign for Family Leave Income, launched by the National Partnership for Women & Families in June, 1999. Promising approaches to the problem of unpaid leave include: letting people collect unemployment insurance or disability insurance while on family leave; subsidies or tax credits to make family leave more affordable; and state and private policies that make it easier for people to use their own sick leave when family members are ill.
Support for commonsense, cost-effective solutions is growing on all fronts. Several states, including California, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Washington, are considering extending state unemployment or disability insurance programs to cover unpaid leave. Meanwhile, a recent survey found that 84% of companies with 100 or more employees report that their family-leave programs, including paid leave, either save them money (42%) or are cost-neutral (42%).
As long as working women and men must choose between their families and financial crisis, we all pay the price--in welfare costs, lost employee productivity, or health-care costs for children, spouses, and elders. For the sake of our families and our economy, policymakers and employers must find ways to make family leave more affordable.
Judith L. Lichtman
National Partnership for
Women & Families
Your article on workplace flexibility cites employer-sponsored child care as an example of what's not working to ease the burden for working parents. This is not true. A study by the Simmons College Graduate School of Management showed that 93% of working parents believe work-site child care is an important factor when considering a job change; 42% say work-site child care was an important factor in their decision to join the company they work for.
Moreover, several of the companies you cite as successful at helping employees balance work and family responsibilities (such as IBM and Merck & Co.) offer child care as a part of their work/family strategy and are rapidly expanding their offerings.
To be sure, flexibility is an extremely important piece of the puzzle. However, anyone who has worked at home while caring for children understands the inherent challenges of such a situation. Flexibility is not a substitute for the care and education children need. I still recall the paternity leave I took with my first daughter. I had planned to exercise every day, read books, write, and catch up with friends. To my surprise, being at home with my daughter was all-consuming and all of my plans were waylaid. I had a great experience, but work definitely took a back seat.
A successful work/family program will help employers, parents, and children be successful. Employer-sponsored child care is a critical element of a solution that can do just that.
Chief Executive Officer
Bright Horizons Family Solutions
Your photo portraying Joanne Dapkevich on a conference call while her toddler sits nearby doesn't represent reality. As a working mom who works from my home office quite a bit, I am constantly surprised at how many people assume my 2-year-old is home with me. It is impossible to work from home on a regular basis without child care--it's this kind of portrayal that gives us remote-working moms and dads a bad rap. It's no wonder more businesses don't give flexible working arrangements a try--they are envisioning a scenario like your photo.
Glen Rock, N.J.Return to top