Work-life grumbles are a sign of deeper management failings

Dec 06 2007 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Workers only start to complain about their work-life balance when they are feeling unhappy about other areas of their job. So if managers can get the basics right, flexible working becomes much less of an issue.

A survey of more than 300,000 employees by U.S. workplace pollster Sirota Survey Intelligence has found that employees who feel they have a reasonable balance between their personal and professional lives also tend to have more positive views about other areas of their work.

This included having pride in their company, willingness to recommend their employer to others and a sense of engagement in their job.

The poll cast into doubt the perception that most workers are unhappy with their work-life balance.

It found nearly three quarters of those polled were overall positive about their work-life balance.

Among those, nearly nine out of 10 said they satisfied with their job and their company.

This compared with six out of 10 of those who also felt negative about their work-life balance.

It was a similar story when it came to workers feeling proud to work for their employers.

More than nine out of 10 of those happy with their work-life balance in their organisation were also proud to work there, compared with 68 per cent of those who were not.

Some 88 per cent of happy work-life balancers would also recommend their employer as a place to work, compared with nearly two thirds of those who felt negatively.

Intriguingly, it was also clear that, while too much work was an issue, giving people too little to do could also become problematic.

Employees who reported having too little work were 25 per cent less satisfied with the job itself (the kind of work they do) than those who said they had too much to do.

Nearly seven out of 10 employees who said they had too much work were satisfied with their jobs, against 44 per cent who said they were at a loose end, said Sirota.

"Work-life balance is almost an afterthought to people who feel their employers are meeting their end of the deal by being fair, providing interesting and meaningful work, and recognition or rewards for a job well-done," said Nick Starritt, managing director of Sirota Survey Intelligence, Europe.

"Work-life balance becomes a real issue when employees feel that their employers aren't holding up to their part of the partnership," he added.

In high performance companies, there was normally a basic trust in place and a recognition that the success of one party depended on the success of the other, both professionally and personally.

"Employers should take a long-term perspective toward work-life balance. If a manager goes out of his or her way to accommodate a personal crisis, most employees will redouble their work efforts later on," Starritt said.

And, with the impending retirement of millions of Baby Boomers, employers needed to put in place practices that made workers more willing to refer friends and colleagues for job openings, he added.

"One thing employers can do is to train first-line managers to be sensitive and flexible when employees have a personal or family situation that needs their attention. Especially when employees are holding up their end of the partnership," said Starritt.

Most people come to work enthusiastic, ready to work hard, and make a real contribution, he stressed.

"The key, then, is to balance company and personal demands within a partnership culture and a spirit of 'win-win,'" said Starritt.