Workplace, Workforce, and Working Families

PLEASE NOTE: New grant proposals are no longer being accepted in this program.

Launched in 1996 and completed in 2012, this program sought to enhance scholarly, business, and public understanding of the challenges facing today’s working families and to identify how the workplace can be restructured to meet the needs of both workers and employers.


​Grantmaking fell into four categories:

  • Basic Research:   These grants funded innovative, high quality research on the challenges facing today’s working families and on the efficacy of business and policy responses to these challenges. Other grants supported promoted the early career development of work-family scholars and the creation of several multi-disciplinary research centers to serve as hubs for high-quality, collaborative work family scholarship. 
  • Faculty Career Flexibility in the Academy: Through a partnership with the American Council on Education, the Foundation launched the Alfred P. Sloan Awards for Faculty Career Flexibility, which recognized colleges and universities for innovation and leadership in implementing flexibility for tenured and tenure-track faculty. Each winner received award monies to allow them to accelerate the implementation of effective family-friendly politics.
  • The National Workplace Flexibility Initiative:  These grants aimed to promote workplace flexibility as a compelling national issue and to help make workplace flexibility the standard way of working in the U.S.  Additional grants funded outreach to policymakers and thought-leaders to inform them of the latest research on working families and of the ability of workplace flexibility policies to meet the needs of employees and employers alike.
  • Aging and Flexible Work: These grants funds original, high-quality research on America's aging work force and issues facing older workers.


Prior to the start of the program in 1994, social science research was bifurcated into the study of work or family. Little, if any, research examined the intersection of work and family: the life choices made by families when both parents work or the work conditions faced by employees who have working spouses. Responding to this gap in our knowledge, the Foundation charted a dramatically new direction for scholarship by developing a program grounded in the notion that the rise in dual-earner households has led to a social and economic revolution.

The Foundation provided funding for six academic Centers on Working Families, one Workplace Center, one Center on Aging and Work, and more than 100 additional research projects to examine issues faced by working families. These Centers and related projects generated academic research that is remarkable both in its breadth and scope. Foundation grants supported more than 60 Ph.D.s and 40 post-doctoral fellows specializing in work-family research. The Foundation also played a pivotal role in developing the new field of work-family scholarship by providing the only source of sustained funding for researchers in sociology, psychology, anthropology, political science, labor economics and industrial relations to conduct interdisciplinary research on issues faced by working families.

The results of the program's collective body of research reveal how far we have come in understanding how working families cope.

  • We now know that working mothers lose approximately one night's worth of sleep a week, due to the combined demands of work and family.
  • Husbands whose wives work 40 or more hours a week experience poorer health than do husbands whose wives work shorter hours.
  • The U.S. economy incurs a significant loss of human capital in that many highly educated, middle-class mothers leave the work force, because they cannot get career-continuous, part-time arrangements.

Many research findings tie directly to the fact that a profound workplace/work force mismatch exists. While the demographics of the American workforce have changed dramatically over the last thirty years, the structure of the American workplace has not. It retains its full-time, full-year structure, which made sense when the majority of employees were male, lived in traditional breadwinner-homemaker households, and retired promptly at age 65. The one-size-fits-all workplace no longer makes sense when most employees live in dual-earner or single-parent households or work well beyond 65, often with significant care-giving responsibilities. It is not surprising, therefore, that in the 21st century workforce, nearly four out of five working Americans - across age, income, and stage in life - want more flexibility at work. But a flexibility gap exists: the demand for flexibility far exceeds its availability.

Workplace flexibility is a commitment to organizing work in time and space in ways that give employees greater control over when and where they work while at the same time helping employers achieve business objectives. Workplace flexibility assumes a number of different forms, including but not limited to:

  • Flexibility in Scheduling of full-time work hours, including flextime or compressed workweeks
  • Flexibility in Number of Hours spent working, including part-time, part-year, summer hours, phased retirement, or job-sharing
  • Flexibility in the Points for entry, exit, and re-entry over the course of a career, including formal leaves and sabbaticals, as well as taking time out of the paid labor market, with the ability to re-enter (we refer to this as career flexibility)
  • Flexibility in Location of Work, including working at home or other off-site locations

The outcomes of workplace flexibility must be proportionately fair to employees and employers, increasing employee control over the method and manner of work without increasing costs to employers. Successful flexibility efforts also take into account the changing needs of men and women throughout the course of their professional and personal lives and across different income levels.

Basic Research

Prior to the start of the Workplace, Work Force and Working Families program in 1994, social science research was bifurcated into the study of work or family. Little, if any research examined the intersection of work and family. Through its basic research grants, the Foundation aimed to create a problem-focused, interdisciplinary field of work-family scholarship that exists beyond the work funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The Foundation funded innovative, high-quality research on the work-family conflicts faced by American families and the efficacy of various solutions to these conflicts. It also promoted the early work of scholars who focus on work-family issues.

Grants through this program helped build a community of work-life scholars where none existed, developed a body of quality research on work family issues, trained the next generation of scholars in issues related to the intersection of work and life.  This community and the scholarship it is generating are tied together through the efforts of the Work and Family Research Network.

The Sloan Centers on Working Families

To build a body of quality scholarship that provides perspective to and understanding of the lives of working families and the work conditions that affect them, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s program on Workplace, Work Force and Working Families created six Sloan Centers on Working Families.

  • The Center on Parents, Children and Work at NORC, University of Chicago and Michigan State University
  • The Center on Everyday Life of Families (CELF) at the University of California, Los Angeles
  • The Center for Myth and Ritual in American Life (MARIAL) at Emory University
  • The Center for the Ethnography of Everyday Life (CEEL) at the University of Michigan
  • The Center on Working Families at the University of California, Berkeley
  • The Employment and Family Careers Institute at Cornell University

Each of these interdisciplinary Centers was directed by leading scholars who developed research programs built on their intellectual strengths. As a result, each Center developed its own distinctive approach to the study of  working families. In addition, the Centers played an instrumental role in the intellectual development of the rising generation of young scholars interested in studying working families.

Other important grantee partners include:

Faculty Career Flexibility in the Academy

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation supported projects designed to increase our understanding of the work-life conflicts experienced by tenured and tenure-track faculty in American colleges and universities and to promote career flexibility as a viable solution to these conflicts. This specific higher education industry focus created greater career flexibility for tenured and tenure-track faculty. Specific initiatives in this area included the Alfred P. Sloan Awards for Faculty Career Flexibility in the Academy, a series of awards given to universities who demonstrated a commitment to work flexibility on campus and for pioneering creative ways to ease the work-family conflicts experienced by faculty.

National Workplace Flexibility Initiative

This collaborative effort was designed to shape workplace flexibility as a compelling national issue - providing an essential step toward the long-term goal of making workplace flexibility the standard way of working in America. Grantmaking pursued three complementary strategies:

  • Increase public understanding of workplace flexibility through the news media,while reframing the discussion about flexibility as a strategic business tool rather than as a personal favor or employee accommodation.
  • Increase voluntary private sector efforts to implement workplace flexibility without jeopardy to employees through the use of quality research and a local awards program that is partnered with chambers of commerce.
  • Create a climate in Washington, D.C. whereby members of Congress will assume responsibility for pursuing viable, bipartisan, workplace flexibility policy ideas.

To increase voluntary employer efforts,the Foundation supported research examining the impact of workplace flexibility as a strategic business tool. The results of this research, as well as case studies, are available from:

The Sloan National Workplace Flexibility Initiative was committed to the principle that workplace flexibility must be good for both the employee and the employer. To further communicate the benefits of workplace flexibility to employees, the Labor Project for Working Families released FLEX PACK, which provided fact sheets on union practices regarding workplace flexibility.

While the national initiative communicated the value of flexibility within the private sector and among employees, the Foundation funded Georgetown University’s Workplace Flexibility 2010, in collaboration with the New America Foundation, to help create a climate in Washington, D.C. whereby members of Congress will assume responsibility for pursuing viable, bipartisan workplace flexibility policy ideas.

Aging and Flexible Work

The program also funded original, high-quality research on America's aging work force and issues facing employers of older workers.  Foundation grants established the Center on Aging and Work at Boston College, a research center devoted to developing a research agenda focused on aging and work in the 21st century and to expanding flexible work options for older workers. Preliminary research from these grants resulted in the launch of a new Foundation program on the needs of older workers and the institutional, regulatory, economic, and sociological barriers that inhibit older Americans from working longer.

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