Barriers scupper better work-life balance

Dec 14 2006 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Whether it's an over-developed work ethic, peer pressure, worries about money or just hostility from bosses, huge barriers continue to stand in the way of Americans achieving anything resembling a decent work-life balance.

While an overwhelming nine out of 10 Americans agree that striking a balance between work and life is an issue for everyone Ė not just mothers - less than one in seven (15 per cent) say they actually achieved this balance.

Holding back the other 85 per cent are the old stereotypes about money, work and supervisors which mean that those New Year's resolutions about getting to grips with the work-life conundrum are bound to fail,

That's the message from new research by Opinion Research Corp for Work+Life Fit Inc beaesd on a survey of almost 1,000 full-time American employees.

"Men and women, single or married, couples with children and couples without, are pretty much equal in their views that work-life fit is gender-neutral, marriage-neutral, age-neutral and reason-neutral," said Cali Williams Yost, president of Work+Life Fit Inc.

But despite more than nine out of 10 (95 per cent) of the men surveyed saying that work-life balance is an issue for everyone, not just mothers or married people, it is clear that they remain deeply concerned about what others might think of them should they go ahead and actually address their work-life balance issues.

"The men are stepping up and recognizing, 'This isn't just my wife's problem or my friend's, it's mine too,'" said Brad Harrington, executive director of the Boston College Center for Work and Family (CWF).

"That's progress, yet corporate and media biases continue to reinforce the status quo."

Men and younger workers emerged from the survey as being particularly worried about what others would think of them if they tried to change the way they work as well as more concerned that they might loose their jobs.

A third of men said that peer pressure was what is keeping them from improving their work-life balance compared to just under a quarter of women.

But more than half of all those surveyed also said they have not discussed work-life balance with their supervisor, even though two-thirds acknowledged that it's not just the company's responsibility to create a flexibility-friendly work environment.

"Workplace flexibility programs and policies are window dressing," Brad Harrington said. "We spend too much time on them and not enough time on influencing manager and employee behavior. We create a minimum standard, but not a culture."

Until that culture exists, he said, companies are missing documented and proven opportunities to improve their talent management, employee retention and engagement and financial performance.

Cali Williams Yost added that employees and companies need to work together to make work-life fit a business issue that's part of the day-to-day agenda just as they do with project updates, budgets or sales reviews.

"Both employee and corporate ideas about work-life fit need to do a fast-forward to catch up with today's 24x7 global workplace realities," she said.