Flexible working does not mean being work shy

2008

When most Americans say they want better work-life balance they aren't asking to take their foot off the career accelerator, they simply want to work differently.

Nearly two thirds of Americans want their next president to bring in laws that would encourage firms to offer more flexible working – but this doesn't necessarily mean they want to work fewer hours.

Whether it'll be President Clinton, Obama, Huckabee, Guiliani, Romney or McCain, nearly six out of 10 Americans want to see new laws brought in that make it easier for organisations to offer, and individuals to have, more work-life flexibility.

Yet the telephone poll of 900 adults by consultancy Work+Life Fit also pointed out that, as yet, the issue had barely been raised on the U.S. presidential campaign trail.

"While work-life flexibility has been a prominent issue in political campaigns in other countries, such as Australia, Great Britain and New Zealand, it's a blip on the U.S. political radar screen. Only two presidential candidates have so far addressed the issue," said Work+Life Fit president Cali Williams Yost.

The poll also highlighted a discrepancy between what most commentators assume employees mean by work-life balance and what workers actually want.

The vast majority stressed that work-life flexibility did not to them mean working less, just differently.

In fact just five per cent favoured reducing their work schedule by more than 10 hours.

Nine out 10 argued that greater flexibility would improve or, at worst, make no difference to their organisation's customer service.

Four out of 10 saw work-life flexibility as a growth strategy for their company, not simply an employee perk.

And more than half said they already had more work-life flexibility this year compared to last.

When asked what was the single most important change they would make to their jobs, half of those polled chose options that entailed working differently rather than making more money.

And when considering a different work style, more than a third rated flexibility as the most important thing against 16 per cent who rated better use of their talents.

"The perpetuating myths that people want to work significantly fewer hours and that work-life flexibility means working less are simply not true," stressed Yost.

"Most employees don't want to work less, they just want to work differently, in a way that better utilises their talents or is a better fit with the rest of their lives' demands and desires," she added.

"Work-life fit has traditionally been more of a personal care-giving-related issue for women. For most men, it's not as emotional, so they are better able to objectively see the business benefits of work-life fit and grasp the strategic value to their company growth," Yost continued.

"As more men and women see work-life fit as a strategic growth imperative, it will become part of the day-to-day business operations," she added.

The survey also suggested that progress is being made. A fourth of those surveyed said they already had enough work-life fit, up from 15 per cent in 2006.

More than half felt they had more flexibility now than at this time last year, but 45 per cent said they did not.

More men (56 per cent) than women (half) and more households with children (58 per cent) compared to those without (half) reported more work-life fit this past year. But the flexibility gap remained for both single and older employees, it added.

"There's still a lack of comfort for singles and older age groups to pursue and believe that they too may need and can have work-life fit," said Yost.

"With looming issues such as the retirement drain and increasing elder care demands, it is critical that companies and individuals address both the business and personal need for a work-life fit strategy for all employees," she added.