When Workers Go AWOL

Peter Drucker believed that as we move deeper and deeper into a knowledge age, corporations must treat their workers “as if they were volunteers.”

The reason: “Knowledge workers have mobility,” Drucker wrote. “They can leave. They own their ‘means of production,’ which is their knowledge.”

But as it turns out, many, many American workers still can’t leave their jobs—even for a short time. A new study by the New America Foundation shows that “the U.S. is one of the only countries in the world without a system of paid leave to support new families.” And despite the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993, nearly half of the American workforce still lacks job protections extended by the law.

[EXPAND More]“Paid family leave in all other developed nations prove that policies that allow parents to spend adequate time with their newborn children do not undermine the economic growth and competitiveness of business,” the study asserts. “Paid parental leave policies are associated with lower infant mortality rates, better cognitive test scores and fewer behavioral problems for children, as well as fewer negative labor market consequences for mothers.

“Workers without family leave send their sick children to school or daycare and go to work when ill themselves, leading to the costly spread of illness among the public,” the study adds.

Some larger employers are good about providing paid leave. And California has a program that enables people to take up to six weeks of partially paid leave to bond with a new child or care for a seriously ill relative.

But many around the country continue to fall through the cracks, especially low-income workers. Among those who need FMLA leave and are eligible but don’t take time off, New America says, 78 percent can’t afford it.

To us, this is yet another sign of what Drucker suggested was one of the biggest challenges facing the American workplace today: the growing divide between the manual laborer (or service worker) “who sees himself moving down from yesterday’s self-respecting working class into second-class citizenship” and the knowledge worker who increasingly finds himself at “the economic and social center” of things.

What do you think: Should the U.S. have a mandatory system of paid family leave for everyone?[/EXPAND]