9-to-5 Gives Way To 24-7

By Frank Swoboda and Amy Joyce, Washington Post, Friday 10 March 2000; E01

To help ease the pressures of work and family, Kim Murphy flies to Europe nearly every weekend.

Married and the mother of a 9-year-old son, Murphy, 35, is a flight attendant for United Airlines with enough seniority to pick a schedule that allows her to fly from Dulles International Airport to Amsterdam most weekends so she can be home with her son, Patrick, during much of the week while her husband works.

A poll of nearly 800 working women released yesterday by the AFL-CIO indicated that women in two-income families face a growing need to work different hours than their husbands in this 24-7 economy. There is no such thing as an average workday in workplaces that operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

In the auto industry, for example, dealers have increasingly started to keep their service departments open from 8 a.m. to midnight to accommodate the changing needs of their customers.

Washington area supermarkets—where on any given day an estimated 45 percent of their customers don’t know what they’re having for dinner by 4 p.m.—have their busiest weekday hours between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sunday is the now the biggest shopping day of the week.

The AFL-CIO—which has more than 5 million female members, making it the largest working women’s group in the country—found that 46 percent of women who are married or living with someone work a different schedule than their partner. Most do this by choice to accommodate the needs of work and family, but slightly more than one-third of the women surveyed said they had no say in their work schedules.

Many woman have had to kiss 9-to-5 goodbye, said Karen Nussbaum, director of the AFL-CIO’s working women’s department.

More than half of the married female members with young children—51 percent—work different hours than their husbands, according to the survey. Nussbaum said nearly half the women who worked different hours than their spouses worked a different shift rather than just a few hours’ difference.

The survey shows that one of four working women work at least part of their hours in the evening or on the weekend. This is especially true of women who work in low-wage jobs with annual incomes of less than $25,000. Twenty-six percent of women with children under age 18 also worked evening or weekend hours, according to the survey.

Over the past quarter-century the percentage of women who work outside the home has risen from 45.7 percent to 60 percent. The percentage of men in the work force has declined during the same period from 78.7 percent to 74.7 percent.

The survey also showed that 69 percent of the women polled said they were not worried about the possibility that an economic downturn would affect their jobs over the next few years. The optimism was greatest among white women (78 percent), college-educated women (78 percent) and women with annual incomes of more than $60,000. Only 12 percent of the women surveyed earned more than $60,000 a year and nearly half were in the $10,000-to-$40,000-a-year income bracket.

The telephone survey of 765 women 18 years and older was conducted early in January by the polling firm of Lake Snell Perry & Associates. The survey covered a national random sample of 500 working women and oversamples of 75 African American women, 75 Hispanic women, 75 Asian American women and 40 union women. Slightly more than half the women surveyed were 39 years old or younger.

This was the first poll conducted by the AFL-CIO in which women were questioned about the hours they worked.

Gary Burtless, an economist with the Brookings Institution, said his research showed that the average employee between the ages of 20 and 55 is working more than his or her counterparts did 30 years ago. But he said it doesn’t necessarily follow that family life is more stressed because there are now more families that have no children. The real stress, he said, is in those families with young children.

According to Burtless, the biggest growth among women in the work force in recent years has been among single mothers. The percentage of single mothers in the work force has jumped from 58.4 percent in 1994 to 71.5 percent in 1999. He attributed the increase to welfare reform, tight labor markets and the earned income tax credit.

Diana Furchtgott-Roth of the American Enterprise Institute called the move to different work schedules a positive sign that families are structuring their work time so that they have more time with their children. She said the AFL-CIO survey shows that a lot of the schedule changes were by choice.

The survey appears to show what most working women with children already know: That trying to balance the demands of the workplace with those of families can create an enormous amount of stress.

The poll was taken at the end of a year in which the AFL-CIO’s working women’s department conducted a nationwide series of round-table discussions with women, seeking their views on work-family issues. The department did not seek the views of working men in two-income families.

Not surprisingly, the issues for working women that emerged from the survey and the discussions—which were held in lunchrooms, community centers and town halls throughout the country—are the predominant issues of the past: equal pay, better health care and pensions, and improved leave policies and child-care programs.

The AFL-CIO hopes to use the findings to help develop a legislative agenda for working women in the upcoming elections for president and Congress.

Nearly three-quarters of the women surveyed said their employer did not offer child-care benefits, 54 percent did not receive paid leave for taking care of a sick baby or other family member, 34 percent said their employers did not give them any flexibility or control over their work hours and 29 percent said their employer did not provide any sick leave. Twenty-eight percent said their employers did not offer any pension or retirement benefits.

For Kim Murphy, the major problem in juggling work and home with her husband Dan is time. I work a pretty unconventional schedule. I try to arrange a Friday-Saturday-Sunday or Saturday-Sunday-Monday schedule, she said. That makes it so much easier to be home during the week.

But the stress of arranging for pickups and deliveries of their son may be about to get worse. On Monday, Dan Murphy starts a new job with a longer commute from their home in Herndon to downtown Washington.

Murphy said their daily lives are governed by two calendars: the one she keeps and the one that goes to the babysitters. She said she gets her flight schedule on the 18th of each month and then starts working on the calendars.

Marie Sherrett, a divorced legal secretary in the District with two teenage sons, one of whom is autistic, calls her life a constant juggling act as she tries to work as much overtime as possible to pay her bills and still meet the needs of her children. I have no choice, she said.

Although she has a 9 a.m.-to-9:30 p.m. job, Sherrett said she is often called on to work overtime and sometimes has to work extra hours because she needs the money. Sometimes, she said, working extra hours has made her feel so incredibly guilty.

Deborah P. Kelly, meanwhile, an employment lawyer at Dickstein, Shapiro, Morin & Oshinsky, did something no partner in her firm had yet done: Soon after her triplets were born, she asked for a cut in hours to attend to her two girls and boy.

When I asked for this deal, there was one other woman at the firm who had a reduced-time arrangement. The firm was properly cautious as to whether it would work, but they were willing to give it a chance, said Kelly, whose children are now 11 years old.

She and her husband have worked out a schedule so that not one single school performance or event has been missed yet, she said.

That allows me, when things are working well, to work around my husband’s schedule and he mine so that one of us can always attend our three children’s various school functions, she said.

The firm now has five other partners, along with Kelly, who work some sort of flex schedule, she said. I hope someday I can answer this question and say we have five male partners doing it, Kelly said.

Employees—male and female—at Freddie Mac can go on a flex schedule as well. Kathy Welty, an event planner and mom of 3-year-old Kyle, comes to the office around 7:30 a.m. and leaves around 4:30 p.m. so that her son doesn’t have to spend all day in child-care. My husband does the morning shift, she said. They go on a neighborhood walk and he gets him into school around 9:30.

She then is able to pick Kyle up around 5 p.m. and has a bit of time to play before launching into cooking dinner and giving him a bath.

Working Women Speak

Here are some of the results of the AFL-CIO study on working women:

Percentage of working women who say their employers do not offer:
Employer-provided retirement benefits: 28%
Secure, affordable health care: 24%
Flexibility or control over their hours: 34%
Paid sick leave for themselves : 29%
Paid leave to care for a baby or family members who are ill: 54%
Child-care benefits: 74%

NOTE: AFL-CIO Ask a Working Woman survey was based on telephone interviews with 765 women 18 and older, conducted between Jan. 6 and Jan. 11. Margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percent.

Different Shifts

Percent of working women who said they work different hours from their spouses or partners:
All: 46%
With children under 18: 51%
Without young children: 41%

SOURCE: AFL-CIO Ask a Working Woman survey