A woman's work is never done . . .

2003

Employers are increasingly responsive to the case for better work-life balance, according to a new report from The Work Foundation and Employers for Work-Life Balance. But for many women the problem remains that when one working day finishes, another begins at home.

The report About Time for Change, found that six out of ten people say that their employer would offer flexible working option to all employees – whether or not they have children. But within the home, women still face the lion's share of domestic responsibilities. And as a result they are often doing a double shift.

Women are over three and a half times more likely than men to report that they do most of the household tasks themselves, and over 12 times more likely to report that they do most of the childcare.

The report, based on a survey of 500 respondents, found that the case for equality in the home isn’t helped by the fact that women generally earn less than their partners. Since their career takes the lowest priority, they are more likely to do the childcare and housework.

But economic clout also gives women more clout at home. Couples whose salaries and career priorities were equally matched tend to share domestic responsibilities more evenly.

Alexandra Jones, author of the research, says: "The work-life balance debate is about people having more control over their work and is relevant to the entire workforce. However it is clear that women in particular continue to manage a range of responsibilities and are being pulled in two directions. They are entering the workforce in greater numbers than ever before, and sharing financial responsibility.

"But equality hasn’t worked in the other direction, and women are finding themselves in a double bind that often traps them into remaining in lower paid jobs, and putting their careers second. Work-life balance is crucial to help both men and women manage this situation"

Despite changing employer attitudes, the survey found that over two-thirds of people – both with and without children - want to spend more time with their families. Four out of ten full-time workers also say that they would be more productive if they were given more control over their time. And people are still exhausted by their lifestyles. Over a third of full-time and part-time workers are so worn out by work that they fall asleep on the sofa.

Skills, development and education suffer too. Worryingly for employers, more than half of full-time workers say they lack the time to do an evening class because of the hours they work. And over a quarter of full-time workers exist on fast food, pre-prepared meals and snacks because they don’t have time to cook.

Large numbers of people are coping by outsourcing what they see as their domestic responsibilities, with one in ten working people employing someone to help with the housework, and one in five employing someone to help with the childcare.

Peter Ellwood, chairman of Employers for Work-Life Balance says: "Work-life balance is commonly misperceived as simply being about the number of hours an individual works. The experience of EfWLB members is that successful work-life balance practice is actually about choice – allowing all employees more choice in how and when they work.

‘It is encouraging that more than half the respondents recognise that work-life balance isn’t just applicable to parents, but this hides the fact that nearly a third still think that way. There is clearly still work to do to persuade both employees and employers that work-life balance is beneficial to the entire workforce and therefore should sit at the heart of the organisation."

The central argument of the report is that the work-life balance issue is not going to go away. As women continue to enter and progress through paid employment, childcare and work-life balance rise up the business agenda. An ageing population presents a dual challenge: it means that organisations will need to start looking at flexibility for older workers – whose experience is important but who may not want to work full time – while also providing flexibility for those with caring responsibilities for elderly parents.

Will Hutton, chief executive of The Work Foundation says: "The mass influx of women into paid employment, an ageing workforce, new technologies, increasing competition and the intensification of customer demand mean that the workplace has changed beyond recognition. But the public debate about work-life balance often lags behind.

"Employers can’t disregard the fact that whilst some employees enjoy working long hours, many want to spend more time with their families, or the experience of working women – caught between the twin pressures of work and home.

"Human beings need more than work in their lives if they are to stay sane. But it’s not just about civil society, individual sanity or allowing women to juggle their lives better. It is increasingly relevant to workplace performance and productivity. Without progress in this area, UK employees will continue to fare badly compared to workers in other European countries."