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The Future of Work, Gender, and Social Policy

Jan. 9 2018 11:19 AM

Going Part Time May Not Be the Fix Working Mothers Need

Americans work more than workers in any other nation in the industrialized world. And American mothers spend more time with their children than ever before. As a result, many are stressed out, exhausted, and at the end of their tether.

It is with envy and admiration that American mothers often look over the Atlantic toward Europe, especially toward welfare-state Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands.* The Dutch have one of the shortest average working weeks in the world (36 hours), and approximately 75 percent of Dutch women work even less than that average. Many of them go part time, especially after they have children. They have the freedom to choose to work fewer hours, which gives them more time to spend with their families or on leisure activities.

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On the surface, the Dutch may have it all figured out: 16 weeks of maternity leave, an elaborate network of day cares, and a culture that allows them to be imperfect mothers, thanks to a mentality that encourages moderation in all things. Working part time, something that is seen as a cure for all problems in the U.S., is actually the norm in the Netherlands. But look closer and you will see that the work-life balance paradise is not without its own gender-equality shortcomings.

“In the Netherlands, the division of labor is influenced by the so-called 1.5 breadwinner or provider model. Men tend to work full time and women part time,” explained Esther de Jong, senior policy officer at Atria, an institute committed to gender equality. This is powered by two assumptions the Dutch have about men, women, children, and families. In the Netherlands, 40 percent of men and 30 percent of women believe that mothers are more suitable for raising young children, and 60–70 percent of both men and women believe it is bad for children under 2 to attend day care. “The pressure for women to combine both care and work activities often makes them opt for part-time employment,” said de Jong.

While it is illegal to discriminate against part-time workers in the Netherlands, people who worked less than full time were still extremely vulnerable to downturns, unexpected financial costs, or job loss. These jobs also have less prestige and recognition. Worst of all, the rise of part-time jobs could actively contribute to the rising inequality because women are overrepresented in nonstandard work arrangements in jobs that offer lower hourly wages, for example. Workers who had part-time contracts also felt the flexibility they desired cost them potential career advancement opportunities and better pay.

A recent study showed that women in the Netherlands first started working part time in their 20s, right out of college, often before having children was even an issue. As a result, women were less qualified for top positions later on, even after having children who were grown. Sectors that traditionally employed them, like health care or child care, didn’t always have full-time positions available. Moreover, women were more likely to have flexible contracts than men and were, therefore, easier to be let go. In November 2017, the Dutch newspaper Volkskrant reported that the number of people affected by work-related burnout has risen in recent years and can be explained with the rise of part-time jobs, which offer much less financial security than full-time contracts and are therefore more stressful. Employees with stable positions were also able to take more sick days without worrying about the consequences and could avoid burnout by resting more.

According to the Dutch statistic office CBS, women who had flexible contracts were less likely to be mothers. And, according to the most recent survey by the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report, the Netherlands has dropped 16 places when it comes to gender equality due to the low political participation of women and their low economic independence. That has to do with the large share of women in part-time work: Only 59 percent of Dutch women are economically independent.

Moreover, even as Dutch men work less than their counterparts in other countries, women still do the majority of house- and child-related tasks. According to recent studies, mothers spend 2½ times less time on paid labor than fathers. This is especially visible in the discussions about paternity leave. Women get 16 weeks of paid parental leave in the Netherlands. Dutch men? Two days. While this is better than the zero days American dads get, in nearby Sweden, fathers have 90 days.

Of course, there are benefits to part-time work. Part-timers in the Netherlands are free to divide their time between work, child care, and leisure as they see fit. And even though many Dutch women work part time, their participation in the labor market is still high: 74.2 percent of women are employed compared with 84.6 percent of men. Moreover, the Netherlands scores consistently high in terms of gender equality, especially when it comes to the education of women. But one can’t overstate the importance of financial independence for women, and that comes not just from working but working in positions of power. “There is a link between the low share of women in leadership positions and the division of care and work between men and women,” said de Jong.

De Jong’s solution? “An equal division of parental leave is important in breaking the pattern of women working part time and men working full time. It provides fathers with the opportunity to spend more time with their newborn children and enables women to return to employment more easily.” But it’s important for the leave to not be interchangeable, where married parents can choose who should take what proportion of the leave between the two of them. In countries where that is the case, women usually take additional time off instead of the fathers taking their paid leave.

For real gender equality on the labor market, two things need to happen: policies that make it possible for women and men to combine paid work and care and a public discussion on existing stereotypes about the proper division of labor between men and women. “It is important to keep aiming for gender equality on the labor market and to break stereotypes on the division of care and work so that both women and men are free to choose what they would like to do; work, take care of children, or a combination of the two,” said de Jong. In that sense, the discussions about gender equality in the Netherlands aren’t so different from those in the U.S.

*Correction, Jan. 10, 2018: Due to an editing error, this post originally misstated that the Netherlands is in Scandinavia.

Jan. 8 2018 10:00 AM

Want to Be an Ally to Women at Work? Here Are Five Things Men in Tech Have Been Doing.

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, more women are coming forward with their stories of workplace harassment and inequality, and more men are hearing them. In the tech industry, where a significant disparity exists between men and women and a conversation about these problems has been happening for years already, male allies have begun to make a small dent in the imbalance. Below are the best practices for men who want to become allies to women in the tech industry and beyond.

1. Share the Research

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After you’ve studied the issues and heard the stories of gender inequality and harassment in tech, expand your reach and talk with others in your workplace and community—colleagues, team members, friends. Share articles on your social channels and make the issue a part of your public identity. Prepare responses for those who disregard what you’ve learned. For those who believe the industry is an impartial meritocracy, arm yourself with data about the topic. Here are some stark statistics to get you started: Women hold 25 percent of computing jobs and 11 percent of executive positions in Silicon Valley companies, and 9 percent of tech board positions are filled by women, only 7 percent of partners at top VC firms are women, and only 5 percent of startups are owned by women.

Research from Catalyst Bottom Line also shows that the more diverse the leadership, the better the results. Identifying these problems is a good first step. Collecting resources and strategies to pass on to other men helps build momentum. Want more recommendations on where to start finding these resources? Check out AnitaB.org resources, Maleallies.com, the 3% Conference List of 100 Things You Can Do Right Now to Help, and the National Center for Women & Information Technology guide for Male Allies and Advocates.

2. Open the Doors to More Participation From Women

Make sure women literally take seats at the table, rather than standing on the sidelines. David Hornik, a top venture capitalist who serves on the board of GLAAD, a leading nonprofit LGBTQ advocacy organization, says: “My objective as an ally of underrepresented folks in tech has been to do everything I can to give under-represented entrepreneurs access—access to opportunities, access to networking, access to the board room. At my conference, The Lobby, I have worked hard to rectify the gender imbalance in tech conferences. And then, with a more diverse audience, I have encouraged conversation about the challenges under-represented entrepreneurs face.”

Allison Fine, board member of Civic Hall Labs and author of multiple books on social media and social change, tells her story of meeting Micah Sifry, founder and executive director of Civic Hall, in 2000 when she knew nearly no one in this space. “We are most powerful when we speak and act together for the common good. Micah believes this, promotes it, and practices it every day.” She adds: “That’s how I started my second career. … He opened up the door for me.” Sifry not only shared where opportunities were, but he invited her over to be a part of them. “He’s amazing,” Fine said. “If you can hold your own, he’ll be there for you.”

Opening the door for more women includes virtual doors, like inclusion in email groups. Susan Scrupski, founder of Big Mountain Data, was the first woman invited to a group of enterprise tech bloggers. “The guy who put my name forward did it with some trepidation, but he did it nonetheless. It's a badge of honor we both wear to this day.” Stories like these show that even small, seemingly minor acts of inclusion can make a big difference down the road.

3. Amplify Women’s Voices

Unfortunately, many workplaces exude a culture where women are disinclined to speak up in meetings or in general. Data has shown men tend to dominate meeting discussions on average, speaking for 75 percent of the allotted time. When women do speak out, they can be ignored, passed off, ridiculed, shunned, or have their ideas taken. Male allies can prevent this by cutting it off at the pass. When you see it happen, don’t let it go. Turn to the woman and ask her: “What do you think?” Pull her aside after the meeting and let her know you’ve got her back. Another tip, from Christina Knight, creative director at UKnight: “By reiterating a thought shared and attributing it to the woman who offered it, you endorse worthy ideas and ensure the appropriate person is remembered for them.” If you’re active on social media, make sure to share, retweet, and comment on women’s accounts to assure they’re heard.

And when you have the chance to put more women on a physical stage, do it. Laura Klein, principal at Users Know, shared her story of how Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup, was “one of the earliest people to put me on stage at his first conference (Startup Lessons Learned, which is now Lean Startup Week), long before I had any sort of an audience myself. … And the Lean Startup conference is dedicated to a 50% gender split in speakers every year—an initiative that was started by Sarah Milstein several years ago, but that Eric has continued.”

4. Mentor Women in Your Field

Either through organized mentoring programs or via informal mentoring, find ways to take time to mentor women in your field—of all ages, but particularly women early in their careers. If no suggested format exists, ask women what will help them most. Schedule phone appointments or find a coffee shop or office with other people around. Keep it professional. Ask good questions and prepare your advice. Don’t talk down to the women you mentor, even if they come across as naïve. Remember what you were like when you first got started. And recruit other men to become mentors for programs.

Mhaire Fraser, organizer of the Women in User Experience mentorship program every summer, calls the male mentors “rockstars for the program.” Men mentoring women in startup programs can also make a large impact. Sophia Yen, CEO & co-founder of Pandia Health, says, “All my mentors at StartX were male. Steve Atneoson and Pramod John were really helpful. Fellow StartX men (Alexandre Robicquet and Eric Hennings) also introduced me to investors.”

5. Advocate for Fair Workplace Policies

Workplace policies that support women and diversity in general can include small changes, like listing “salary negotiable” in job postings, so women will feel more comfortable negotiating, or they can be massive, like creating sophisticated maternity and paternity leave programs. Another strategy: blind résumé evaluation. Ries advocates for hiring processes that evaluate résumés without names attached in order to reduce potential gender bias. These policies will never be enacted without male allies. Women aren’t the only ones caring for family members. Advocating for flexible hours, working from home, on-site child care helps men and women. Observing how and when colleagues are evaluated and promoted can also be an important area where policies can be adjusted.

Becoming active in these conversations as an employee with a track record or as a decision-maker in an organization will solidify your standing as an ally long after you’re gone from that particular workplace. As Hornik says, “I think that anything we can do to give women a seat at the table and a voice in the conversation will profoundly benefit everyone.”

Jan. 5 2018 10:26 AM

Equal Health Care Access May Be the Key to Lasting Peace in Colombia

The scope of damage brought about by the decades-spanning armed conflict in Colombia is vast—270,000 deaths, 80,000 disappearances, and 8.2 million people internally displaced between 1958 and 2017 (and those numbers only reflect those who have officially registered with the government, likely a low estimate). The conflict has stretched out over decades—gota a gota or drop by drop, only ending with the 2016 peace accord. Because Congress approved justice tribunals on Nov. 30, 2017, that will try war criminals and administer reparations to victims of the conflict, the government of Colombia has its work cut out for it in 2018: They must craft policies to make the peace accord materially happen and address the issues that sparked the conflict to begin with. But a lesser-known star of the peace process has emerged: health care policy.

Prior to the peace process, health economists worldwide had touted the success of Colombia’s 1993 health care expansion, especially as a potential model for U.S. health care reform. A 2013 study by Ivan Arroyave, Doris Cardona, Alex Burdorf, and Mauricio Avendano, for example, looked at the impact of increasing health insurance coverage on disparities in mortality to see what the U.S. could learn from health care expansion (the answer: insuring more low-income people helps reduce mortality rates). Colombians are now insured in a two-tiered system. People can purchase health insurance in the private market through payroll and employer contributions (think Affordable Care Act). Those who can’t, however, are provided with subsidized insurance (think: Medicaid expansion). Despite unrelentingly high poverty rates and inequality in the country, Colombia successfully implemented mandatory health insurance, insuring roughly 95 percent of Colombians. But until now, care has been limited in rural areas affected most by the conflict (especially the indigenous and Afro-Colombian populations) due to safety concerns and little money allocated to the public hospitals in those areas. Now that armed groups are demobilizing, it’s safe enough and necessary to provide health care to isolated areas, and health care access has been explicitly written into the peace deal.

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The Colombian government seems to realize that care services do more than just provide health care—they’re a way to build civic capacity. And building civic capacity is no small feat in light of Colombia’s violent history, a history tied directly to deep economic and social inequality. In his book Evil Hour in Colombia, historian Forrest Hylton attributes the source of the conflict to an “unresolved legacy of conquest, colonialism, and slavery” that resulted in modern hyperconcentrated wealth, particularly in the form of resource-rich land. Those left out of this system, and criminalized for protest, dissent, and poverty (in this cold-war era, that often included nonviolent leftist protesters such as professors, journalists, and students), gave rise to armed movements that, in turn, were often sustained by profits from drug trafficking. The simultaneous absence of a strong central government and the concentration of  power among local authorities allowed paramilitary, leftist, and drug-trafficking groups to flourish. “In practice, we have two Colombias—some don’t want to know, others are ignorant of the magnitude of the armed conflict,” says Camilo Sánchez Meertens, liason of post-conflict health policy at the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace.

In a country twice the size of Texas and home to three mountain ranges rivaling the Alps, unraveling historical inequality, complex geography, political divides, and a lack of rule of law, universal health care access is ambitious. Nonetheless, the current government sees health care as vital to the peace process and health crises as potential political crises, which they discussed at a workshop on the peace process hosted by the Hertie School of Governance and the German Academic Exchange Service in November 2017. At the workshop, the commissioner for peace argued, “We need to change mindsets so that we’re no longer used to dealing with issues through military means: public education, health care, reconciliation. The challenge is to include community in rebuilding democracy.” The provision of health care is a visible first step in trust-building with local communities and ex-combatants. Already, the government has made a deliberate decision to deploy doctors from local public hospitals to 26 encampment zones to guarantee the cease-fire, disarmament, and re-entry processes, and to build local capacity.

And, as within Colombia’s broader public health system, subsidized health resources are being made deliberately available for all (including unemployed and homeless populations) in order to bridge political divides and create equality among combatants and the rural, indigenous, and Afro-Colombian populations most affected by the conflict. According to Sánchez Meertens, early in 2017, ex-combatants were the ones accessing the majority of health care benefits. But almost a year later, combatants and rural communities affected by the conflict are accessing them equally, meaning the government’s outreach efforts have been successful already.

In the future, Colombia still must bridge urban-rural health care divides. This will be especially important in addressing maternal health in remote areas (not an idea unfamiliar to the about 2.4 million women in the U.S. without a country obstetrics unit) as fertility rates among ex-combatant and rural populations increase now that the fighting has stopped. They also have to resolve inequality within the health care system: differences in benefits between the private and subsidized markets, the quality of the hospitals within your insurance system, and wait times for doctors.

But according to Philipp Hassel, a demographer and associate professor at the University of the Andes, addressing war injuries, jungle diseases, and pregnancy are just the beginning of what the government faces. The 2015 National Survey of Mental Health and Census of FARC-EP indicate that about 10.87 percent of the Colombian population deal with mental health issues—mainly post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety. According to Hessel, the preliminary analysis of data not yet available to the public shows that the number of mental health issues are as high as one-third of victims of the conflict and ex-combatants. And these are all reactions to the conflict, not social determinants of health and the conflict itself. Even more difficult than deploying doctors to remote jungle areas is how to address the poverty and inequality creating health care issues as well as issues stemming from the advancing economy as a whole—cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and hypertension in a rapidly aging population. Ensuring that all Colombians, even those in the most rural areas, have access to this basic treatment is key to ensuring that Colombia functions as an actual democracy.

According to Maria Emma Wills Obregón, adviser to the chair of the National Center for Historical Memory, “Democracy is built on citizenship, which is based on principles of equality, liberty, and solidarity. After 50 years of war, solidarity has eroded and has been replaced by a drive to survive, even at the cost of others. So we need to rebuild solidarity and question indifference.” And with surely contentious discussions of land reform and redistribution yet to come, health care may be the way to start that broader conversation around national unity.

Jan. 3 2018 10:00 AM

The 1908 Murder That Brought Sexual Assault, Work, and Power to the Headlines

Sarah Koten immigrated to the United States in 1902. Five years later, she began working under the tutelage of Dr. Martin W. Auspitz, who ran a sanitarium where Koten was also allowed to live. According to the June 9, 1908, issue of the New York Times, Koten worked with Auspitz for about five months. “I was frightened and did not want to stay,” she later told a coroner, “but the doctor wanted me to stay, and said he would make a trained nurse out of me.” Then one morning, as she told it, Auspitz chloroformed and raped her in the room where she slept at the sanitarium.

Koten found herself pregnant. According to Koten, Auspitz pressured her to get an abortion, but she refused and left the job.

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Finding herself poor and unable to obtain work due to her pregnancy, Koten, an unmarried Russian Jewish immigrant, went to the courts and brought suit against Dr. Auspitz for the rape and to hold him responsible for the unborn child. He denied the accusations, and defense-witness testimony from Auspitz’s brother and brother-in-law maligned Koten’s character. The presiding judge acquitted the doctor on the grounds of insufficient evidence. Turned away by the police, and advised by the district attorney that she had no other legal recourse for what the doctor had done to her, Koten sought redress on her own terms. She lured Auspitz to a made-up patient’s home and, upon his arrival, shot and killed him.

Koten gave birth to her child during the year she spent imprisoned while on trial. Then Koten became a lightning rod for the early feminist angst against the injustices of American workplaces of the day, a hero to female labor leaders, and a dark inspiration to other women who would go on to murder men and cite Koten as a role model.

Rachel Elin Nolan, a Ph.D. candidate in English at the University of Connecticut, analyzes Koten’s story in a recent article in the feminist journal Signs. Nolan’s article traces the evolution of the press’s coverage of Koten “as a ‘wretched’ and ‘frenzied’ girl and ‘a total wreck’ ” into an object of public sympathy. According to Nolan, when Koten was first arraigned, the press “delighted in recounting anecdotes about her ostensible hysteria and criminality.” However, as the story evolved, Auspitz’s history of being accused of sexual violence against women emerged. Two women had previously come forward to name him as their attacker, with one going so far as to try to kill him herself. (According to the Washington Post, Hannah Jensen, a patient of Auspitz’s at the saniatrium, attempted to shoot him but was less successful than Koten. She was arrested but allowed to go free as long as she promised not to harm him.)

Sarah Koten and her baby Abraham
Headline: With Babe in Arms Sarah Koten Pleads, from the Philadelphia Inquirer, April 15, 1909.

The Philadelphia Inquirer

Aided by the public’s temporary interest in broader patterns of male abuses against women and Koten’s insistence that her attack of Auspitz was done to save other women from him, the press started to turn in Koten’s favor. While the trial was ongoing, the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader quoted Koten as sublimating her own needs to her son’s: “There is nothing in the world like loving as a mother loves. I think of nothing but him. It makes no difference what comes to me, I am not anything myself … I have no care for anything but the baby.” In their coverage of the trial, the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader and the Philadelphia Inquirer ran pictures of Koten holding her newborn son, Abraham.

Her story was also featured in a suffrage-themed issue of the Coming Nation, then a popular socialist newspaper, as an example of how an ideal immigrant, a “frail little woman,” saw her hopes of prosperity dashed by the workplace exploitation endured by women. By the time the case ended, Koten’s image had been rehabilitated. Mercy was granted to the submissive new mother who had been victimized and forced into poverty when she was unable to obtain justice against her abusive employer through legal pathways.

In an interview with Slate, Nolan explained that Koten’s story was taken at the time as evidence that a “new unwritten law” was emerging. Up until the late 19th century, the unwritten law was a sort of widely shared “ ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ that if another man had meddled with a woman in his life, it was acceptable that he would retaliate.” In the late 19th century, however, the press began discussing a new unwritten law that applied to the women who experienced violence at the hands of men: Because they had little power to stop men’s aggression through other means, they were allowed to commit violence themselves in response.

As Nolan explained, “This often hinged on the women making the claim, ‘I’m just a woman. I couldn’t do anything else but pick up a gun and shoot him.’ ” While this shift in public opinion provided women grounds for justifying retaliation, it was also contingent on their willingness to emphasize not their autonomy but their victimhood. To earn mercy, they had to concede: “I’m so weak; he was so powerful.”

This shift in public perception Koten experienced benefited her legally and served to bolster the political aims of the groups that used her story to further their own causes, but, as Nolan points out, it ultimately obscured her efforts to lay claim to her own autonomy in the face of a system that had failed her. While awaiting trial, Koten was interviewed by well-known socialist activist Rose Pastor Stokes, who would become a strong ally of Koten’s throughout the trial (and would go on to use Koten’s story as the basis for her 1916 play The Woman Who Wouldn’t …).

Koten made clear to Stokes that murdering Dr. Auspitz was not merely a last-ditch effort to spare herself of any future abuses at his hand but a kind of activism on behalf of other poor women: “When I thought of my broken life and the lives he might live to break, well, I felt it was my duty to kill him.” The public sympathy from which Koten ultimately benefited was contingent on her desperate victimhood rather than what she saw herself as: an empowered and righteous avenger.

Nolan notes that, left to their own devices, women seeking retaliation against men who had wronged them began to cite Koten’s case as inspiration for their own violent actions. Later in 1908, Sarah Comiskey tried to kill her father for deserting his family. That same year, Nellie Walden killed her ex-boyfriend for abandoning her, and in early 1909, a woman named Elizabeth threatened a man named Charles Schmidt, telling him that if he didn’t marry her, she would “blow out his brains like Sarah Koten did.” (He complied, but ultimately had the marriage annulled.) Each of these women claimed Koten as inspiration. Yet none was able to convincingly demonstrate her victimhood enough to draw the leniency under Koten had.

Unwritten laws, while potentially powerful, are no substitute for policies or systems. They are subject to varied interpretation, trust, and shared sensibility among their various constituents, to an informal and often inequitable adjudication of who “counts” as a viable complainant. And, most importantly, unwritten laws leave little recourse for victims who are unable to game the implicit codes in their favor and convince the audience they were helpless (white, of course) victims deserving of sympathy and the benefits of the unwritten laws. Of course, it’s men’s belief that nobody will believe the women they assault that often leads them to target them in the first place. This is likely why a doctor back in 1908 thought he could get away with raping a nurse. Koten’s story is only one for the history books because, in this case, he turned out to be wrong.

In many ways, this is the argument anti-rape activists have been making for years about rape culture: How we respond to those who say they have been sexually assaulted and preventing sexual violence in the first place are not unrelated issues. Thanks to the shift in public opinion, the resulting mercy granted by Justice James A. Blanchard, and the help of the women’s organization that took her into its care, Koten was given the chance to retreat into anonymity and “rear her child” in what early-20th-century Pennsylvanian publication the Index called “ignorance of the crime its mother had committed.”

Because Koten likely changed her name, Nolan has spent considerable time trying to find out what became of her and her child to no avail.

Did she go on to live a happy life with her child? How did she pay the bills? Did her next employers mistreat her, or did she get respect and a guarantee of safety while she worked?

When the only kind of justice for workplace abuse comes in the court of public opinion, what kind of peace does it offer the victim in the long run? These are answers Koten’s story can’t give us.

Jan. 1 2018 5:57 AM

Four Crucial Things You Should Know About New York’s New Paid Family Leave Program

Working people in New York state will ring in the new year with an important new right on the job: up to eight weeks of paid family leave (increasing to 12 weeks by 2021). Here’s what workers in New York—and advocates for paid leave across the country—need to know about paid leave in the Empire State.

It’s not just for new parents

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The benefits of paid leave for new parents are clear: It’s critical for children’s health, early brain development, and families’ economic stability. And new parents in New York will have equal coverage regardless of gender, including adoptive and foster parents.

But providing parental leave only to new parents ignores the range of caregiving needs working people have. In fact, about 1 in 5 people who take leave through the federal Family and Medical Leave Act each year take that time for family caregiving—a share that is likely to grow as the population ages.

New York’s program offers the most inclusive paid family leave in the country, covering not only new parents but also family caregivers and military families with needs related to active duty deployment.

In New York, workers will be eligible to take time to care for a family member with a serious health condition, such as a grandparent recovering from hip surgery or an adult child seeking treatment for opioid addiction.

Relatives of military service members can also take paid leave for reasons related to deployment, such as making child care arrangements, caring for a service member’s parent, or spending time with a service member on temporary rest and recuperation leave.

“There are nearly 2.6 million family caregivers across New York state, including many who care for older loved ones while balancing the stresses of work,” said AARP New York state director Beth Finkel. “No one should ever be forced to risk their own economic security to care for a loved one. New York’s paid family leave program will provide critical support to our state’s unpaid family caregivers.”

It doesn’t put your job at risk

Even people who have access to paid leave may avoid taking the time they need if they fear it will have negative consequences at work. After all, the last thing a new parent or someone caring for a seriously ill family member needs is to lose a job—and income. Any well-designed paid leave program should ensure that employees will not face retaliation for using the leave they have access to.

“One especially crucial element of New York’s landmark law is full job protection,” notes Molly Williamson, staff attorney for A Better Balance, a nonprofit that is helping to educate New Yorkers about the law. “Every worker covered by the law will have the right to return to work after taking paid family leave. That means that workers can take the time they need to focus on their families, safe in the knowledge that they’ll have a job to return to when they're ready."

It’s not just for white-collar workers

Because the highest-profile voices calling for—and in some cases providing their employees with—paid leave are often Silicon Valley entrepreneurs or other large employers in big cities, paid leave can seem out of reach for workers outside of certain industries or urban centers. But the need for caregiving doesn’t discriminate, whether you’re a programmer, a truck driver, or a retail worker, living in a Manhattan apartment or in an upstate industrial town.

New York’s paid family leave program covers private sector workers in all industries, including many part-time workers. And it supports self-employed people like freelance writers, small business owners, and entrepreneurs, who can opt into coverage.

It’s not just for large employers

Many small business owners would like to offer paid leave, which has clear benefits for employee morale, productivity, and retention, but may have concerns about unforeseen costs.

New York’s paid leave program provides a solution. Employers provide their employees time away from work for eligible caregiving purposes, but they won’t incur the substantial and often unpredictable cost of covering pay for employees who are out on leave. Instead, employees pay a small share of their wages (less than 0.2 percent of each paycheck, capped at less than two dollars per week) to cover the cost of premiums on the insurance policies that will cover their leave.*

By balancing the needs of employers and employees, New York’s program actually makes providing paid leave more affordable for many businesses and more accessible to working families. It’s little wonder that a majority of small business owners support establishing a national paid leave insurance program similar to New York’s.

In the nearly 25 years since our nation’s first and only federal leave policy—the Family and Medical Leave Act—was signed into law, researchers and policymakers have learned a lot about what it takes to create a fair, inclusive, and responsible paid leave program. This is clearly reflected in New York’s cutting-edge policy. Other states—not to mention members of Congress—should be taking notes.

*Correction, Jan. 2, 2018: This post originally stated that employees pay a small share of their wages into a state trust fund that covers the cost of their leave. The employee share actually pays the full cost of the premiums for the insurance policies that cover their leave.

Dec. 29 2017 5:55 AM

Five Good Things That Happened to American Workplaces in 2017

The past year brought us many reasons to worry about our chances of achieving that happy work-life balance we dream about—given the seemingly endless number of regulations and worker protections the Trump administration has cut, the major changes to the National Labor Relations Board, and now many questions about what the largest piece of tax reform legislation in history will do to our economy. Still, it’s worth remembering that even a tough year has a silver lining, and there is hope that our best work-lives are still ahead of us. From a national movement to snuff out toxic work cultures to state and local innovations for balancing work and family, 2017 offered some good with the bad.

Here, members of the Better Life Lab team at New America highlight five seriously good things that happened for American workplaces in 2017:

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1. #MeToo

In September, the courageous voices of a few women set off a tsunami of disclosures of widespread workplace sexual harassment across sectors as varied as movie-making, news media, politics, and academia. Amplified by social media and the #MeToo hashtag that allowed women from all walks of life to share their experiences with harassment and make the case for its pervasiveness, the groundswell removed prominent men from their positions of power. More importantly, #MeToo and the surrounding disclosures, while horrifying, spurred a broader conversation about behavior in the workplace and sex and gender and power dynamics. Men and women are re-examining their workplace interactions and employers are thinking anew about how they create structures and processes to allow for victims to tell their stories and end these all-too-common abuses. —Amanda Lenhart

2. Schedule stability in Oregon

In August, Oregon became the first state in the country to pass a law ensuring schedule predictability and stability to the hourly workers of large employers. The law, which goes into effect in July, requires employers with more than 500 workers to give their employees advance notice of schedules (one week in 2018, two weeks in 2020), adequate rest (10 hours) between shifts, and the right to request certain shifts or workplaces—or pay a “predictability” premium. The law, which passed with solid bipartisan support, is designed to both put an end to the erratic and unpredictable schedules that wreak havoc on the lives, health, and livelihoods of hourly workers and to help businesses by creating a healthier environment for workers that will reduce costly absenteeism and turnover.

In recent years, increasingly erratic schedules have become the norm for the hourly workforce through a combination of new scheduling software and the pressure to cut labor costs. With behemoths like Walmart, McDonald’s, Home Depot, and Kroger, the retail and fast food sectors are by far the largest civilian employment areas in the United States. Pressure from online competitors like Amazon has forced what some call a retail jobs “apocalypse,” with, for instance, more department store jobs lost in the past 15 years than coal mining or factory jobs. The Oregon predictable scheduling law follows city ordinances in Seattle, San Francisco, and New York and is seen a model for legislation that lawmakers from both parties can support. —Brigid Schulte

3. Hawaii’s solution to the elder care crisis

In July, Hawaii passed the Kupuna Caregiver Assistance Act, ensuring that senior citizens in the state and their working family members have access to the elder care they need. The act grants primary caregivers who work at least 30 hours a week with up to $70 a day in assistance from professional home aides. Hawaii rose to face the challenges presented by an aging population and an extremely high cost of living, a challenge that the rest of the United States faces or will soon face. Working family members who also perform unpaid elder care, a role primarily held by women, can now remain in the workforce. The benefits of the Kupuna Caregiver Assistance Act extend beyond the family and into local businesses as employers can now retain valuable skilled workers.

The passing of this landmark legislation carries implications for the future of elder care in the United States. Hawaii’s program serves as a potential inspiration and a data source for how other states could enact similar legislation. For American workers increasingly sandwiched between their careers and the need to provide care to kids and their aging parents, Kapuna represents a badly needed path forward. —Roselyn Miller

4. Paid parental leave in San Francisco

Life got a lot easier for many working parents in San Francisco this year. That’s because the city passed a new paid parental leave law and became the first city in the country to offer six weeks of fully paid parental leave. It officially went into effect in January. Even before that, California was already a good place (compared with other states) to have a kid: It pays 55 percent of a worker’s salary for up to six weeks. This new city law requires that employers pay the 45 percent difference, and it was expected to raise the average weekly salary from $743 to $1,351. It could make an especially big difference for low-income populations that don’t work for big tech giants and don’t have access to generous leave policies.

Unsurprisingly, the business community’s reaction to the new law has been mixed, and some economic analysis has suggested it could slow hiring and job creation. But right now, it’s impossible to predict the ultimate outcome and impact on families and on business at large. And it’s impossible to know whether it could or should be a model for other cities. But it is possible to applaud San Francisco’s spirit of experimentation—of trying something rather than nothing and for giving the rest of the country a starting point for action. —Elizabeth Weingarten

5. The rise of remote work

As one of only two countries in the world offering zero weeks of guaranteed paid leave to workers for family or health crises (alongside Papua New Guinea), the U.S. workforce is desperate for more jobs that don’t require onsite, regularly set shifts. And 2017 seems to have made even more managers and workers converts to the glories of flexible working than ever before. According to a 2017 report from FlexJobs, a service that helps companies recruit flexible workers, remote working has increased by 115 percent in the past decade. With the uptake of new technologies like Zoom, for all your video conferencing needs; Slack, for regular interoffice chatting and info-sharing; and seemingly endless options for finding pop-in co-working spaces in your own neighborhood, the reasons for employers not to accommodate teleworking are fewer than ever.

To help meet these needs, a new job board, Werk, exclusively connects job-seekers with companies that want to attract remote and flexible workers. The demand for setups that allow Americans to both live and work at the same time is here. Here’s to hoping 2018 is the year more workplaces step up to meet it. —Haley Swenson

Dec. 27 2017 11:09 AM

Our Aging Population Needs Workplace Adjustments. We Have to Find a Way to Provide Them.

Dolly, a 66-year-old resident of southern Maine, began working as a young teenager, eventually securing a job with her local public school system. She worked for 29 years as the administrative assistant for the district’s adult education program. After a surgery required to combat endometrial cancer, Dolly says she was “slammed into menopause,” and as a result, her memory and focus started faltering. “I would liked to have worked until I was 70, but I could see writing on the wall that my director was not happy; I was having a terrible time keeping up,” says Dolly. She felt “pushed out the door,” and she approached her boss about beginning to plan for retirement in a few years. A few weeks later, she was given a retirement date for the end of that school year. “I did feel definitely pressured to retire right then,” she says. Dolly, who asked that we use only her first name for fear of potential negative professional repercussions, and her husband were not sure they could manage on their pensions and Social Security and are both looking to find part-time jobs to stay afloat.

In the early 2000s, the forecasted disasterlike magnitude of the needs of the U.S.’s huge aging population earned them the nickname the “silver tsunami”—baby boomers (those born between 1945 and 1963) who are approaching retirement and in increasing need of elder care services; some estimate that 1 in 5 Americans will be over 65 by the year 2030.

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Of course, not all baby boomers will be retiring, and certainly not retiring at the rates of their parents. That’s because our economy is very different today, and many boomers either never had adequate retirement funds or had them wiped away in the Great Recession. According to one survey, two-thirds of baby boomers will continue to work after age 65.

Sue, a 60-year-old grandmother in Columbus, Ohio, who also wishes to use her first name in case of negative repercussions to her professional life, has been working for 35 years in various administrative capacities for a large church in the city. When she was raising her children, she did not work full time. “I was primarily a stay-at-home mom,” Sue says. Usually she worked for only a few hours on the weekend. But with a late-in-life divorce, her retirement became a pressing concern. After speaking with a financial adviser, Sue is hopeful to retire at 67 and spend more time with her family. But she is also keeping an open mind—she knows she may find herself working into her 70s if the government continues delaying the age she can access Social Security.

Sue is not alone. A 2016 retirement confidence survey cites several reasons for this: a poor economy, inadequate finances, and needing to pay for skyrocketing health care costs. According to this survey, 46 percent of retirees left the workforce before they planned to, with 55 percent of that number leaving because of a disability or health problem.

In an article in the University of Chicago Law Review, Michael Stein, visiting professor at Harvard Law School, and his co-authors argue that retaining older workers’ capabilities is in everyone’s interest, precisely because the financial costs of Social Security and Medicare are unsustainable, and pensions are dwindling as baby boomers are living longer. Thus, creating workplaces that effectively accommodate aging bodies is to the economic benefit of the country—and to the social benefit of those who want to continue to work. And as Stein and his colleagues suggest, this kind of flexibility can be considered a workplace enhancement tool—making workplaces more adaptable and allowing them to both retain employees and ensure productivity at the same time—that is best for the economy and for the worker.

The Americans With Disabilities Act, passed in 1990 and amended in 2008 to cover a wide array of age-related conditions, was designed to provide strategies and tools for people to continue working despite an impairment. It was developed as a result of decades of political activism, known as the disability rights movement, and, among other components, prohibits discrimination against disabled people in the workplace. No one can be fired or denied a promotion on the basis of a disability if a reasonable accommodation can be made to allow a person with a disability to perform the job. The problem with the ADA is that while it was intended to cover a large scope of human bodies, it has been interpreted in a very limited way by the courts.

According to Stein and his co-authors, before 2010, more than 97 percent of claimants in federal trial courts lost. The 2008 amendments were designed to make it easier to prove you qualify as disabled, but challenges remain. Stein and his colleagues write that one of the main barriers to claimant success is this balancing act in trying to prove that they are disabled enough but not too disabled, something that many older working Americans may have trouble balancing with gradually developing, age-related impairments such as muscular-skeletal pain; vision impairments; or, like Dolly, memory and focus problems. Statistically, even if Dolly had used the ADA to ask for accommodations, she’d have low odds of winning her case. And that’s if she can even find a lawyer who wants to get behind her in the first place.

AARP has a pledge program that works with employers to encourage the hiring and retention of older employees. According to Heather Tinsley-Fix, senior adviser for AARP, employers become aware of this program through active recruiting at various HR conferences and often voluntarily opt-in.

While AARP’s program is a start, not having official standards for hiring and retaining older workers leaves many businesses guessing at best practices; the work of Stein and his colleagues around universal design in the workplace is a helpful and strategic place to start.

Beth Loy, a principal consultant with the Job Accommodation Network, has several practical solutions for accommodations in the workplace, including moving work stations closer to restrooms and providing access to refrigerators, allowing personal attendants at work, and providing flexible schedules and self-paced workloads. According to Loy, the trade-offs for providing accommodations are invaluable, including providing long-term institutional knowledge, well-established workplace networks, and diversity of perspectives.

There are indeed ways in which older workers contribute invaluably to the workplace—their institutional memory and long-term commitment being just two examples. But in the absence of any effective way to require companies to accommodate their employees, these aging workers are at the mercy of the market.

Thanks to Nicole Buonocore Porter, professor of law at the University of Toledo, for her help with this post.

Dec. 22 2017 12:33 PM

The Real Holiday Magic Comes Not From Micromanaging, but Letting Go

The biggest laugh line I ever delivered was when I told a group of some 300 women at a big Atlantic event in Washington that my husband believes in Santa Claus. Why wouldn’t he? The stockings appeared on Christmas Eve and were magically filled Christmas morning; little elves decorated the tree and put perfectly wrapped gifts beneath it; wonderful smells emanated from the kitchen as Christmas cookies were baked and Christmas meals planned and shopped for; most items on the kids’ Christmas lists were delivered without ever being ordered, if not by reindeer then at least by Amazon.

For many years when our sons were little, my husband would look up sometime in early December and comment in a surprised tone that I seemed tense. And I would explode. I mean EXPLODE. He was genuinely oblivious to the endless lists and extra hours spent decorating, planning, ordering, and nagging. (Have you gotten a gift for your assistant? For your great-aunt Maude? Contrary to popular belief, most of us do not actually enjoy nagging.) To top it all off, when we actually got down to preparing Christmas dinner, with him as the principal cook and lots of relatives helping in various ways, he would routinely accuse me of not doing anything, just managing. Without that planning and direction, of course, nothing would happen at all.

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Things changed because of a vacation. He is in charge of family trips, which he spends countless hours planning, organizing, and executing—hours that I don’t really see or give him enough credit for. The boys and I follow happily in his wake, leaving for the airport when he tells us we must leave and looking to him to get us to the gate, the cab, the hotel, and the various sights he has researched and arranged for us to see. He is often stressed and even a bit snappish along the way, even though we do everything he tells us to. In the midst of all this, I am prone to telling him to relax—after all, we’re on vacation!

One summer, as we were following this pattern, I pointed out that he seemed tense, and then it was his turn to explode. In the ensuing discussion, I pointed out that the way he was feeling was exactly the way I felt during the holidays, when he drifted blithely along—doing whatever I asked him to do but never initiating anything. We both had an epiphany and are now more understanding and appreciative of just how much work the other puts in.

He now takes items off my list, or even makes his own list, but with a twist. When we decorate the Christmas tree together, truly together, he rejects many of the ornaments I have found and ordered over the years as tacky. He now finds things for the kids’ stockings on his own initiative (in our family everyone gets a stocking forever), with the result that our sons laugh as they pull out gifts alternating between an iTunes giftcard (Mom), an anthology of modern drama for our actor son (Dad), cute socks and candy (Mom), CDs of a selection of classical pianists for our musician son (Dad), posters of 100 craft beers or 100 rap musicians (Mom), reproductions of commedia dell’arte prints (Dad).

I once would have told him that intellectual self-improvement is not really what stockings are supposed to be about. But now I know and accept: If he is going to do things, he will have his own ideas about how they should be done. If I want them done differently, I can do them myself. Moreover, if I leave it up to him, some things won’t get done at all. He really doesn’t care if the mantel is decorated or if we have special pastries for Christmas breakfast, for instance. So if I’m doing them, I’m doing them not for him but for myself.

And now, when he introduces his own holiday traditions—like wrapping everything in stockings, which is his family’s tradition—I have to be prepared to accept his ideas, just as he accepts mine.

That’s what marital equality actually looks like—at the holidays and throughout the year. Not micromanaging, but letting go. Trusting. Sharing. Accepting. Believing, if not in Santa Claus, then at least in your mate’s ability to make the holidays happen without your supervision. That leap of faith can make its own magic.

Dec. 21 2017 10:00 AM

Three Steps to a Holiday Without Work Email

The holiday season is upon us and it will soon be time to turn on your out-of-office responder. Or, will you? Will you be one of the many Americans who checks their email while they’re on vacation, or will you be one of the few who turns on that auto-responder and doesn't look at your inbox again until your first day back? Will you spend most of your time stressing out about email, losing your rare holiday to the never-ending “ding” of your device?

A few years back, my wife and I spent winter break in a quaint Spanish colonial town in Colombia. We’d looked forward to the holidays, to catch up with one another, disconnect, and try to regain some of the work-life balance we craved in Manhattan. Then came the email: There was an urgent request for information from “higher ups,” and she needed to walk someone on her team through the details of how to find it. She considered ignoring the request but worried it might hurt the image she’d been trying to project of always-available employee. Instead of enjoying one of the afternoons of our vacation with a bite and stroll through town, I spent hours hanging out in the main square watching my spouse wave her phone around desperately trying to find a signal so that the email with the detailed instructions could go out.

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I first started thinking about solutions to these holiday-ruining email nightmares 10 years ago when my work took me to San Lucas Tolimán, Guatemala. I lived in a lakeside town in the Highlands, working with students and faculty teaching a group of indigenous artisans skills they may need to become independent social entrepreneurs. During this month, I was online and on email sporadically. If it rained, the networks would, for the most, part collapse, and when June happens to be hurricane season, well, you end up with a majority of your time involuntarily offline. I couldn’t believe how amazing it felt to be able to truly focus on the project I had there.

Though I did feel what may be best described as email withdrawal (with FOMO and all), it was a truly wonderful experience to know I could “survive” without that 24/7 connectivity. When I got back to the U.S., I resisted being sucked back into the churn, and became actively interested in email charters, technology diets, and ultimately reflective on how I could encourage healthier email practices in my own community of colleagues at Parsons School of Design.

Here are a few steps you can take now to help protect that precious holiday time you have ahead and bring better habits with you into the new year:

Step 1: Gain a really good understanding of your email habits—what they are now and what you would like them to be. Keep a log of how often and for how much time you check email every day. Do you allow yourself to have downtime, for example, when in line at the supermarket or subway platform, or are you always reaching for your phone to respond to the vibration notification (which I always suggest turning off) in case there’s a new message in your inbox? How will this look during the holidays? Do you want to give yourself half an hour each day to focus on email or not look at it at all until Jan. 2? What would your ideal email diet be, and how does it match up with your current reality?

Once you’ve decided what you’d like to change, explore your options. Are you able to try out technology diets that may include checking email once a day? Or, do you perhaps need apps like Self Control and time management methods like the Pomodoro Technique to regain focus and minimize distraction?

Step 2: Send email as you would want to receive it. Are you tired of getting email you don’t actually need at all hours of the night or morning or when you’re on vacation and trying to enjoy family time? Then try to put yourself in the shoes of the people receiving your messages. This is especially important if you’re a supervisor—do you need to email after hours and when out of the office, or could you instead install email scheduling tools like Boomerang or MailButler? Can this idea wait until after the holidays? If so, make a note to yourself and send it then. Your bad email habits aren’t just yours, but they could set the tone for email culture for your whole team at work.

And, most importantly, ponder whether email is the best way to communicate what you have in front of you. Instead, should you request a brief conference call with your team, or check on your work’s instant messaging platform to see if a colleague is available for a quick message during normal work hours? If you wouldn’t want to get that email in your inbox, keep it out of others’ too.

Step 3: Take your ideas to your whole workplace, and try to start some new habits before the holidays. No person is an island, and no true email solution will come from just one vigilant boundary-setter alone. Set expectations about holiday email with your co-workers and other frequent email exchangers now. Consider sharing this article with your colleagues to discuss over lunch. What are some small steps that you all agree could be taken now to make sure everyone has a happy holiday with minimal work stress?

And after the holidays? Start co-authoring a workplace email charter that can set the expectations for everyone from the start. The success of healthier email habits is highly dependent on those closest to your daily work being on the same page.

This holiday season, consider giving yourself, and your co-workers, the gift of email-free holidays. And come the new year, make a resolution to bring that holiday mindset to email year-round.

Dec. 20 2017 10:00 AM

Experts Reveal What Makes for a Happier Holiday. Hint: It’s Not More Stuff.

The holidays, it can seem, are all about time and money: Spending too much money. Never having enough time. All of which can cause so much stress and unhappiness that the American Psychological Association has actually set up an online Holiday Stress Resource Center to help us cope.

It doesn’t take a survey to know that most people want to be happy and not stressed out at the holidays. We look forward to heightened feelings of happiness, love, high spirits and connectedness. But we so often get caught up in all the extra work it takes to create all that good cheer that Christmas and the winter holidays instead can come to feel like a dreaded, gigantic to-do list. Tree? Check. Lights that work? Run to the store. Cards? Ordered, stamped, and mailed. Gifts?

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I knew I was in need of a serious holiday attitude adjustment when my neighbor came over with a freshly baked plate of cookies. My first instinct, I’m ashamed to say, rather than gratitude for this selfless and delicious gift, was annoyance. I’d have to reciprocate, dang it. Like Santa, it was just one more thing to put on the list.

So I turned to a couple of happiness experts, Elizabeth Dunn, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia, and Ashley Whillans, an assistant professor at the Harvard Business School, who specialize in studying the choices we make around time, money, and drudge work.

Here are their five top strategies that social science research suggests will help us all have a happier holiday:

1. Be in the moment: We live in an era of intense time pressure, when most people feel there simply isn’t enough time in their lives and stress is at an all-time high. That can make us feel out of control and always behind, and unhappy, especially at the holidays. So give some thought to how you really want to spend your time.

Dunn makes it a practice to think about what will make the time she spends over the holidays most enjoyable and enable her to be fully present. Not surprisingly, she said, happiness research shows that when we can be present in the moment, we enjoy it more. “If you’re doing one thing and thinking about another, that undermines your ability to reap enjoyment in whatever you’re doing,” Dunn said.

So she made some decisions that, to an economist, may seem irrational, but make perfect sense to a happiness researcher. She has a flexible schedule, so she was thinking she and her husband and son could visit her family in San Francisco in early December, when the flights are dramatically cheaper. But while that makes more economic sense, she knew she’d also be juggling and worrying about work, like writing final exams and grading papers, which would be distracting and make the time feel more stressful. “So we’ll spend a little more money going over Christmas, but that will help me get more enjoyment out of the experience.”

2. Prioritize quality time: Guided by the research that, when it comes to happiness, time matters more than money, when Whillans took her new job at Harvard, she and her husband decided to pay more in rent so she could walk to work, rather than pay less and have a big, time-sucking commute. They consciously chose to spend more money to buy themselves more time.

Whillans takes the same approach to the holidays. She and her husband have a no-gift rule. They instead try to spend time with each other over the holidays. “We give ourselves the gift of uninterrupted time. We focus on prioritizing time with each other, rather than what we’re going to give to each other.”

And as for using your time for meaningful things rather than cooking, cleaning, and all the exhausting work it can take to create holiday magic? If you can afford it, buy your way out of the drudge work you dread, they said. If you can’t, share the load, or do less of it.

Dunn and Whillans recently published research that found that people are happier when they use money to buy their way out of drudgery. In one of their studies, they gave people $40 and had one group buy stuff, and another group buy their way out of unenjoyable chores with cleaning, lawn or errand services, or take-out food. That opened up the possibility of spending time differently.

People reported feeling more in control of their time, Whillans said, and less overwhelmed by their daily lives. So taking a page from their own research, Dunn, who doesn’t love wrapping presents, prioritizes shopping at stores that do the wrapping for her, even if it costs a bit more.

3. Buy experiences, not things: Other happiness researchers have found that spending money on positive experiences, rather than stuff, makes us happier and increases our sense of well-being. And, Whillans said, both the anticipation of the experience and savoring the memory of it afterward can extend those feelings of happiness.

In their study, people who bought their way out of drudge work and had more time, tended to choose to spend it with family and friends and socialized more and enjoyed their time more. That certainly reinforces research that found people who focus on family and spirituality at the holidays are happier than those who are wrapped up in spending money and getting gifts.

4. Maximize the impact of your generosity: “We see in our research that giving promotes happiness to the extent that you can really see, understand, or envision the benefit it will have to the people you’re giving to,” Dunn said. “If I get my dad some random cuff links, I know it’s not going to change anything about his life. The same thing applies to a lot of charitable giving. We just don't get much of an emotional return on it if it’s too diffuse, or if we don’t know how would make a difference.”

So this year, after running around all day in the rain buying Christmas presents and feeling mildly irritated with the world, Dunn came home and donated to an organization that helps pay for operations to repair clubfoot. “I know, if I give this gift, a kid on the other side of the world will have a totally different life,” she said. “The more you can understand the generosity of your gift, the better you’re going to feel. It was a nice way to end the day.”

5. Less is more: Sometimes, what makes us unhappy, especially around the holidays, is simply the too muchness of it all: too much food and drink, too much to do, too much to buy, too many holiday parties at the same time. All of that can add to an intensified sense of time pressure, stress, and unhappiness. So think about doing less. “People are bad at making goals around subtraction,” Whillans said. “We fail to think about removing experiences from our lives as a path to greater happiness.”

Prioritize the kinds of experiences you really want to have. Think about what’s necessary, and drop the expectation that everything must be perfect. “Figure out what to not do,” Dunn said. Go to one fewer party or event. Say no. Focus less on consumption and more on positive experiences, or helping others, Whillans said. “Those are things we know are better for happiness.”

And maybe find time to do a little something nice for your cookie-baking neighbor, not because it’s just one more thing to cross off your to-do list, or because the research shows doing something nice for someone else really does make us happy, but because this is what a truly joyful holiday season is all about.

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