Work-life policies are window dressing

Feb 20 2007 by Brian Amble Print This Article

The big accountancy firms in the U.S. are keen to trumpet their adoption of work-life balance and flexible working arrangements. But look more closely and this new-found concern for their employees is revealed as little more than window dressing.

Researchers who studied two Big Four firms and two second tier firms have found that not only are flexible working policies viewed with suspicion by management, but anybody brave enough to actually ask for alternative working arrangements is going to find that their career prospects suffer as a result.

According to Philip Reckers, an accountancy professor at the W. P. Carey School of Business, the reality of life in accounting firms simply doesn't match the hype.

"You hear what the firms say publicly about work-life balance, and then you hear what your former students say about their actual jobs," he said.

"Even partners, after a beer or two, would admit that work-life balance programs are largely window dressing."

As it turns out, full-time female workers were viewed as having less promising career prospects than their male counterparts overall. But, once they opt for flextime or reduced hours, it was the guys who really got clobbered.

"Managers may tolerate flextime or part-time work with a woman -- maybe," Reckers says. He figures this is because someone higher up on the corporate ladder or a human resources type has talked to the managers "long and hard" about discrimination and related issues. "But if you're a man and you take flextime, the perception is that there's something really wrong with you," Reckers adds.

Knowledge @ W.P. Carey | Flexibility's price tag

Older Comments

I've been thinking about this a lot lately -- it seems that most of the telecommuters I know are one of a few individuals in their company who, for whatever reason, got to exercise the benefit. Some were too valuable to lose to a cross-country move, or were enough of a proven performer that they were able to convince their bosses that it wouldn't hurt. But I'm having a hard time finding a place that truly encourages any and all who are eligible for flexible working arrangements to use them. I've got a few posts about it on my blog: Thanks for talking about this important issue!


Managements have been saying for years that people are their most valuable resource.

But they continue to use the top-down command and control model which includes orders, goals, targets, and a belief that employees should be seen and not heard. All of this demeans, disrespects and demotivates employees.

In such an environment, employees become stressed and resort to an apathetic approach to their work in order to protect themselves and their families from damage. Is there any wonder why they are unhappy with their employer?

Best regards, Ben Simonton Author 'Leading People to be Highly Motivated and Committed'

Ben Simonton