Flexible work from home and other flexible work options are becoming a hot topic, as technology now allows us to work from pretty much anywhere we can access an internet connection. Flexible work options are being explored as more people want the benefits of work life balance. 9 to 5 is no longer the norm it used to be, despite it still being firmly entrenched. The workers have spoken, and want more flexible work options available to them if they are going to remain with their employers.
Does work life balance exist?
So with flexible work from home, and flexible work options now being offered in the biggest and best companies as key ways to attract the best talent, does work life balance exist? Work life balance is something we hear a lot about. Many companies will tell you they have work life balance programs in place, and extensive work flexibility policies for you to take advantage of.
Work life balance is how we prioritise between work and lifestyle, and how they impact one another. While all good companies nowadays offer work flexibility policies and programs, what does that really mean for us? Aren’t we working more hours than ever now?
The status of work life balance across the world
This image shows a snapshot of countries working longest hours to the shortest:
Image source: OECD Better Life Index
The top 10 countries with the working the longest hours are:
- South Africa
- United States
- New Zealand
According to the OECD Better Life Index, 1 in every 8 employees in the OECD works 50 hours or more per week.
The Index suggests that overall, more men work very long hours. The percentage of male employees working very long hours across OECD countries is over 16%, compared with nearly 8% for women (we are talking about paid work here).
It is obvious that the more we work, the less time we have to spend on family time and other activities, such as personal care or leisure. The amount and quality of leisure time is important for our physical and mental well being.
It is well-known that long work hours can increase our stress and negatively impact our health and our safety.
Finding good work life balance
Finding a good balance between work and life is a challenge for everyone, and especially so for working parents and carers. The ability to successfully combine work, family commitments and personal life is important for the well being of everyone in a household.
I see stressed out parents who do the school drop off then literally run back to the car to drive to work. Or the parents who are late for pick up. Or the parents who are devastated that they can’t watch their child in the athletics carnival, or the swimming tournament. And then the stress if a child gets sick during school hours and a parent has to leave work to pick up their child.
But what if we could have a healthy balance? Where we could have a satisfying career that meets our work and financial goals, that also gives us the time we want and need to meet our personal goals? Wouldn’t that be a dream scenario?
Does working part-time help?
The answer is not clear-cut. Many people, predominantly women, work part-time after having children, and soon realise that working “part-time” essentially means being paid less unless the size of your job decreases commensurate to your reduced hours. In my travels I have found this to be the case for more senior women, where the expectation is that you do the hours required to get the job done, however many hours that might be. It seems less prevalent in more routine jobs that are more ‘pay by the hour’ jobs, such as sales and office administration.
For many part-timers, the work is not reduced as much as the hours are, so there are usually many more hours worked than are being paid for.
That’s right. The size of many people’s jobs does not always reduce as much as their pay does. Why would part-time employees accept that? Because part-timers who cannot work full-time are ‘thankful’ for the flexibility. I don’t believe that companies necessarily do this on purpose, particularly with top performers. It just seems to happen that way. And parents are so often thankful for the flexibility that they just want to keep it, and not complain or rock the boat.
It is more often than not women who reduce their paid working hours to manage caring and parenting responsibilities, so it unsurprising that women often get the raw deal with part-time work and work load. And if you are a senior woman working part-time it certainly feels like you have to work a WHOLE bunch harder to prove that:
- flexibility is doable
- you are on top of things
- you deserve to be where you are
Can going flexible work arrangements hurt your career?
The politically correct answer is “no of course not! Everyone has equal access to jobs and promotions, and pay increases, we would NEVER discriminate!”
And on some level companies do mean this. Some practice what they preach. But bias invariably creeps in when decisions are being made. Here’s an example:
You are recruiting for a role that you rely on. It’s your second in charge. You have two candidates who are excellent, who could do the job equally well, and you need to make the choice.
Do you offer the job to someone who you KNOW will put in 60 hours a week and be able available whenever you want them to be? Or do you offer it to the part-timer who has to leave the office at 4pm, can’t work on Tuesdays, and has requested work from home on Fridays?
This example shows more of a conscious bias than an unconscious bias.
What is unconscious bias?
Unconscious bias is really fascinating so I will write another post devoted to it. In a nutshell, unconscious bias is essentially that we don’t realise that we are filled with bias in our everyday world. We don’t mean to be, it just happens. And it does happen to all of us. I’ll give you an example. Think of a person who is a surgeon:
- What do they look like?
- How old are they?
- What is their cultural background?
- What is their gender?
You have probably formed a picture in your mind of what a surgeon looks like, based on what you’ve been exposed to throughout your life about job stereotypes. I’m going to bet that most of you immediately thought of a man. This includes female readers. Don’t feel bad if you automatically thought of a male surgeon. That is what years of cultural conditioning has done to us. It’s important to be aware of it though, so that it can be front of mind when we are making decisions and speaking with others.
Anyway, I’m going off on a tangent (it is interesting though, isn’t it?). Back to the topic at hand – flexible work to give you the work life balance that is so important.
I think corporations are moving in the right direction with their attitudes towards flexible working. Work flexibility wasn’t a big deal until recently, and now it is a key advertising strategy to attract a greater diversity and quality of applicants, including millenials who now demand it.
If you really want to be in charge of your balance between work and life, there are options. Apart from the traditional corporates, there are many careers you can have that allow you flexibility, including online careers from home. An online career from home is now accessible to anyone with a laptop or tablet and an internet connection. It is no longer reserved for techies with special knowledge.
I’d love your opinions. Tell me about your experiences!