State task force examines bridging the divide

State Rep. Mary Stuart Gile is on a mission to make New Hampshire a better place to work and to live. As chair of the newly formed Legislative Task Force on Work and Family, she is searching for ways to protect New Hampshire’s economic advantage while at the same time strengthening New Hampshire greatest resource – its families.

The task force, a statutory committee formed with impetus from key business, government and family-advocacy leaders, has its work cut out for it. Housing market slumps, growing numbers of workers who can’t afford to live near their jobs, a workforce increasingly stressed with family responsibilities, and young adults and young mothers exiting the New Hampshire labor force all add to the mounting evidence that workers’ family lives are out of balance with their lives at work.

Representative Gile has experienced work/family conflicts firsthand. As a young mother who moved to Concord following a divorce, she dealt with the hardships and prejudices faced by working single moms.

“It was always tough, tending to the needs of kids and the demands of work and school, and trying to balance it all,” she says.

After a second marriage, a third child, and dissatisfaction with existing child-care facilities, she asked her supervisor at the state Department of Education if she could bring her infant son to work. It was hard for her colleagues in the department’s Early Childhood Education Division, to argue. Not every New Hampshire parent, however, has an understanding employer that can be so flexible.

Task force members have conducted four intensive brainstorming sessions aimed at identifying areas that employers, bureaucrats, family researchers and advocates all agree are crucial to maintaining a workforce with healthy families.

Concerns that have surfaced include obtaining affordable housing, supporting employees who care for elders or family members with disabilities, finding quality child care, facilitating family health care, helping workers managing work/family stress, maintaining family economic stability (including managing child support), finding new ways to teach family skills at work and addressing rising levels of obesity.

Task force members also realize they must understand the current myriad workforce policies relating to family leave, family-friendly workplaces, work-based parent education and more.

Family-friendly workplace

Now that they have identified the issues, the task force members are focusing their efforts and setting priorities. As part of this process, they have created four distinct work groups dealing with education, family, work policy and state support.

The education group is exploring how we prepare our young people to balance family relationships with their vocations, as well as how we educate our workforce to better care for children and families. The family group is examining emerging issues related to family stability and health. The work policy group is focusing on what employer, local government and state government policies contribute to healthy families. The state support group is identifying the services and supports in place for working families in New Hampshire and exploring how (or if) they can be improved.

Members of the task force will be gathering a variety of data about New Hampshire families and their workplaces over the coming year. This process will include hearing from task force members themselves, identifying and soliciting input from business leaders whose companies represent best practices and getting input from the general public at regional hearings across the state.

“We need to know what is working for families and what could be better so that we can develop legislation that supports our business community to be better able to provide family-friendly work environments, our communities to attract and assist these employers, and to help our families, particularly our young families, to stay and flourish in our state,” said Gile.

As a member of this task force and a specialist in the area of family life, I invite you to join me in coming issues of New Hampshire Business Review in exploring the issues that contribute to healthy family and work balance. Along the way, we will check in on the task force’s progress, explore the latest research about what constitutes a healthy family workforce, and learn some tips and tricks for helping our co-workers achieve a healthy balance by bridging the work/family divide.

Please feel free to contact me with your ideas, your dilemmas, and your input.

Dr. Malcolm Smith is family life and family policy specialist with University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension and teaches in the UNH Family Studies Program. He can be reached at 603-862-7008, or