In the battle for work/life balance, there is both progress and regression. According to a survey of over 1,000 employers by the Families and Work Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management, flexible working arrangements are now prevalent. You can work where you want and when you want—so long as you keep the work pumping. That's largely because technology has freed (or enslaved) us to do work almost anywhere.
And the bad news? You can work any way you want, but just don't think about going part-time or taking a leave. Because if you do, you might never get back in the game.
Comparing data from 2005 to 2012, here are some key points from the survey:
1. Flextime options jumped from 66 to 77 percent, while flex-place options jumped even more—from 34 to 63 percent.
2. Compared to 2005, fewer employers are giving employees the option to cut down their work load without penalty. "These include moving from part-time to full-time and back again (from 54 to 41 percent); and flex career options such as career breaks for personal or family responsibilities (from 73 to 52 percent). "
3. Organizations with less than 25 percent women "are more likely to have a low level of flexibility than organizations where women represent a larger share of the workforce."
4. Organizations with fewer racial and ethnic minorities (0 to 50 percent) offer more flexibility than places where diverse employees make up more than 50 percent of workers. (To put it bluntly, companies with a largely "white" workforce offer more flexibility.)
5. Employers cite retention as the main reason they offer flexibility and leave. Recruiting and retention of women, however, barely registered a blip as a reason.
So what's the effect of this trend? While workplace flexibility benefits everyone, the drop in extended leave options will likely affect more women than men. Reports The Glass Hammer's Melissa Anderson:
Because women disproportionately take extended leaves of absence or shift between full- and part-time, this new data suggests that companies may face challenges keeping the pipeline of talented women flowing to the top.
Anderson adds that "research shows that when companies refuse to work with women based on their long-term flexibility needs, they leave the workforce altogether."
To me, one of the most fascinating parts of the report concerns culture, where the report focuses on "the supportiveness" of "workplace cultures." As the report's authors notes, "We know from studies we have conducted . . . that employer representatives have more positive impressions of their organizations’ cultures than employees do."
Though the vast majority of employers (69 percent) say that supervisors are "encouraged to assess employees’ performance by what they accomplish rather than 'face time,' " they also admitted that management doesn't really reward those "who support flexible work arrangements" or who made efforts "to inform employees of the availability of work/life assistance."
So for all the hype about work/life measures, management doesn't seem to have its heart into it. Which brings us back to the issue of culture. As I've said ad nauseam, it really doesn't matter what kind of flexibility policy you show on the books. What matters is the nebulous stuff—the attitude, the tone of the workplace. Any wonder then why we still can't get a handle on this work/life balance stuff?
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