Industry Market Trends
Are Employees Penalized for Work-Life Balance?
November 10, 2011
Employees suffer a variety of job repercussions for participating in work-life programs, even when their employers claim to support these programs, a recent study suggests. Although employees today feel pressured to work longer and produce more to protect their jobs, the biggest changes in the workplace over the past decade have come in employers' attitudes toward work, family and flexibility. Yet a study earlier this year reveals a growing imbalance between what employers say about work-life balance and what they actually do. Based on a global survey of 2,312 employees in six countries, WorldatWork recently found that among 37 work-life challenges, "financial stress" and "finding time to spend with family" topped the list for men and women alike. Items ranged from professional pursuits to life-stage issues (e.g., marriage, child-related issues, care for elders, etc.). In terms of solutions, men and women around the world resoundingly sought workplace flexibility options to help them manage their work and personal/family challenges, starting with when they begin and end their workday. Respondents also sought "just in time" flexibility: the ability to take time off on short notice for a personal/family matter. However, the survey findings reveal a widening rift between employers' claims about work-life balance versus their actions. "The good news is that 80 percent of employers around the globe avow support for family-friendly workplaces," Kathie Lingle, executive director of WorldatWork's Alliance for Work-Life Progress, said in an announcement of the findings. "The bad news is they are simultaneously penalizing those who actively strive to integrate work with their lives." Employees reported numerous negative repercussions for using flexible schedules and other work-life options, including:
- Overt or subtle discouragement from using such programs;
- Unfavorable job assignments;
- Negative performance reviews;
- Negative comments from their supervisor;
- Denial of promotion; and
- Exclusion from consideration for career-advancing assignments.
- Fifty-four percent of surveyed managers believe the ideal worker is available to meet business needs regardless of business hours;
- Forty percent believe the most productive employees are those without a lot of personal commitments; and
- Nearly one in three (28 percent) believe that employees who use flexible work arrangements will not advance far in their organization.
- Operationalize flexibility. For leaders inexperienced with flexibility, tools and processes that address their fears such as the concern that employees won't be accessible already exist. These tools and processes must be communicated clearly, as well as what the payoff will be.
- Move flexibility up the priority list. While most employers say they are committed to work-life integration, many also say it is pretty far down their priority list. To move flexibility up the list, the focus must be on overcoming business challenges. It is much easier and more compelling for an executive to hear how flexibility will address his or her company's critical challenges.
- Magnify competitive advantage. It is relatively easy to establish a work-life initiative today, yet that doesn't necessarily give employers a competitive talent advantage. What gives them true advantage is institutionalizing work-life balance in the organization's culture. Companies that want to be seen as "employers of choice" that attract the best and brightest must be flexible and supportive of employees' lives outside the office.