Is work life balance a load of hot air?
The notion of work life balance is not a new one, and indeed over the past few months there have been stories of exercising during work increasing productivity, people forgoing bonuses for flexible working and charitable volunteering on company time improving performance.
As I'm writing this blog from home whilst recovering from surgery I can certainly attest to the ease with which it's possible and the clear productivity gains that are achievable if you give people more control over how (and where) they work.
Yet recent research suggests that all of this is falling on deaf ears. Employers might claim that they support flexible working, but the evidence suggests that much of this is mere hot air.
The evidence comes in the form of the annual WorldatWork's Alliance for Work-Life Progress report. This year, it has published a survey examining the attitudes of executives and managers in three major economies – the United States, United Kingdom and Germany, as well as those in a number of developing countries.
The findings are quite damning. They discovered a huge disconnect between what managers say, and what they do. They may say they are happy for employees to work flexibly, but in practice they want them in the office on the clock.
You can work flexibly but...
For instance, the report found that working flexibly came with certain repurcussions. Employee respondents reported penalties for working flexibly, including:
- receiving the unpopular jobs
- getting negative appraisal reports
- poor comments from supervisors
- denied promotions
How much of this is actual discrimination versus percieved is obviously difficult to tell, but the mood is clear - people aren't feeling comfortable working flexibly.
What managers say vs what they want
The report found that what managers actually want is somewhat different to what they say. For instance over half of the managers surveyed regarded the ideal employee as one who is available around the clock to tend to work issues. 40% regarded the most productive employees as those without outside commitments. And here's the clincher. A whopping 33% said that employees that use flexible working won't advance in their organisation!
Kinda sad huh? This is despite 8 out of 10 respondents saying that initiatives such as flexible work arrangements, dependent-care supports and wellness programs play an important or very important part in recruiting and retaining top talent, employee satisfaction and productivity.
Kathie Lingle, executive director of WorldatWork's Alliance for Work-Life Progress said that they "uncovered workplace trends showing employees suffer a variety of job repercussions for participating in work-life programs, even when their leaders insist they support the business value."
"This conundrum can be so oppressive that some employees go underground, resorting to 'stealth maneuvers' for managing their personal responsibilities."
If you recognise any of these behaviours in your own organisation, shame on you. Now more than ever is the time to walk the walk rather than just talking the talk.
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