URI’s Work-Life program receives recognition from national organization

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WorldatWork Alliance awards URI 2015 Seal of Distinction

KINGSTON, R.I. — March 4, 2015 — The University of Rhode Island’s Work-Life program has earned the Work-Life Seal of Distinction for 2015. The seal is a mark of excellence that identifies organizational success in work-life effectiveness. URI is one of the 77 institutions to be honored on Wednesday, March 18 at the WorldatWork Alliance for Work-Life Progress 2015 Future of Work Forum in Nashville.


The University’s Work-Life program is dedicated to increasing employee and administrative awareness about the importance of workplace flexibility and addressing the needs of the changing workforce by promoting work-life policies, programs, research, and best practices at URI and beyond.


“The University is a far better place to work, learn, and enjoy life because of the proactive work-life programs that were initiated and developed starting about 12 years ago,” said Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Donald H. DeHayes. “As a campus community, we have learned to be flexible, supportive of each other, and to understand that the quality of life of our employees strongly enhances all aspects of our work and the academic core mission of the university. While many faculty and staff should be acknowledged for their efforts in creating vibrant work-life initiatives and support at URI, I want to especially thank Drs. Barbara Silver and Helen Mederer for their leadership, persistence, and caring about the university community broadly and, more importantly, about every individual person who contributes to the vitality of our university every day. This recognition honors, first and foremost, their efforts and contribution to the greater good of the university.”


Led by volunteer staff, faculty, and students, the program began in 2003 due to the joint efforts of the URI NSF ADVANCE Institutional Transformation Program and the URI President’s Commission on the Status of Women. Their work began with funding from the National Science Foundation ADVANCE program and the Elsevier Foundation, and now is supported by the URI Schmidt Labor Research Center, the Division of Administration and Finance, the Women’s Center, the Provost’s Office, and the Office of Community, Equity, and Diversity.


URI’s Helen Mederer, professor of sociology and labor research, and Barbara Silver, assistant professor of psychology and research coordinator at URI’s Schmidt Labor Research Center spearheaded the Work-Life program and fostered its growth.


Silver said, “Beginning with the ADVANCE program back in 2003, URI has made great strides in becoming a more family and life-friendly institution. We have seen a significant shift in attitudes and level of support for the non-work needs of our faculty and staff. I am proud of URI’s progress, and while we know there is always room to do more, I believe URI deserves this award.”


“We view work-life effectiveness as both an equity issue as well as a sustainability issue,“ said Mederer. “The importance of caregiving and community participation largely remains unrecognized as essential to the creation of a good society. We are pleased that URI has received recognition for its embrace of these principles.”


Nationally known as advocates for family friendly policies in America’s colleges and universities, Mederer and Silver present research findings and conduct workshops and presentations at URI and across the country. Mederer and Silver urge institutions to take a sociological view of interactions between colleagues and between colleagues and supervisors. They also urge close attention be paid to the underlying outdated cultural imagery of the “ideal worker” as someone who is always available for work, unfettered by family or community responsibilities, while conversely the conception of the ideal family is one which relies on at least one worker for care.


At URI’s Schmidt Labor Research Center, Silver and Mederer focus on effective work-life policy and practices, and are currently conducting research evaluating Rhode Island’s new Temporary Caregiver Insurance paid leave program. Among other things, their programmatic work at URI includes developing faculty flexibility initiatives, policies and programs to support pregnant and parenting URI students, overseeing the lactation program for new mothers returning to work, and managing the Family Care Assistance Program that offers assistance to URI faculty and staff caregivers.


“This year’s Work-Life Seal of Distinction honorees are an exceptional group of innovative leaders that strive to create a company culture that encourages work-life balance,” said Anne Ruddy, CCP, president and CEO of WorldatWork and executive director of AWLP.


Started in 2012, the AWLP Seal of Distinction assesses the seven categories of work-life effectiveness that comprise a best-in-class work-life portfolio in today’s workplace: caring for dependents, health and wellness, workplace flexibility, financial support for economic security, paid and unpaid time off, community involvement, and transforming organizational culture.

WorldatWork is a nonprofit human resources association for professionals and organizations focused on total rewards strategies. Comprehensive total rewards strategies are designed to attract, motivate, engage and retain a productive workforce and, ultimately, enhance organizational results.


Pictured above

AWARD-WINNING TEAM: URI’s Work-Life program earns the international Work-Life Seal of Distinction for 2015. Shown here (l-r) at the Labor Research Center, Barbara Silver, assistant professor of psychology and research coordinator at URI’s Schmidt Labor Research Center and Helen Mederer, professor of sociology and labor research.

URI Photo by Nora Lewis