Flexible work options – do they really give you work life balance?


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
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:

OECD Better Life IndexImage source: OECD Better Life Index

The top 10 countries with the working the longest hours are:

  1. Turkey
  2. Mexico
  3. Israel
  4. Korea
  5. Japan
  6. Ireland
  7. South Africa
  8. Australia
  9. United States
  10. 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?


Work life balance

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.

Wait, what?

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.

Conscious and unconscious bias at work

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.

Find out how to build an online career from home, that you are in charge of, here.

I’d love your opinions. Tell me about your experiences!





6 thoughts on “Flexible work options – do they really give you work life balance?”

  1. I can agree that promotions are usually given to the person that is more able to meet the demands of the job, but if you were actually in a flexible work arrangement would you want to give it up for a promotion? If the job still demands being able to travel on a moments notice you may not be able to fulfill all of the expectations of the job.

    I’m a father of three. I know how frustrating it can be to leave a meeting early to pick a child up from school and then have to go back to work. I think work-life balance is possible, but always difficult.

    • Hi Steve, the unfortunate reality is that it is primarily women who work flexibly to balance their caring responsibilities with work, therefore it is predominantly women who don’t get access to promotions because of ‘demands of the job’. This is one of the many reasons why the gender pay gap still exists and is sitting at around 20%. Women will typically retire with approximately half (or less) superannuation than men, despite women living longer. This means that many women later in life are living in poverty.

      Organisations need to understand this and review the way they design roles and offer flexibility. Both men and women need access to flexibility, and men should be encouraged to work flexibly, in a very visible way. Caring is a normal part of life and should be a responsibility available to all people in the workplace. When people can balance work and life they are happier at work and more willing to go the extra mile. Organisations need to realise that there is a business case for flexibility and that it can positively impact their bottom line.

  2. Great post Melissa! Everything you mentioned is very true, and it’s sad how most companies are like this today. I’ve worked for a company that told me initially that I would work Monday through Friday with some additional work here and there. Well it turned out that I had to work half a shift every other Saturday, plus had to do overtime (from home) during the week and weekends to ensure everything was flowing “smoothly” while I was away from the office. I can tell you that I value time with family and friends, so I eventually left this job and very very glad I did. Working from home definitely seems ideal. Thank you for this post. Cheers!

    • Hi Alex, that is rough. It isn’t sustainable to work like that, and I don’t believe we should have to do that just to make things work. I hope you’re much happier now in your career.
      All the very best,

  3. Huh, how about that. Turkey is estimated to work longer hours than the USA. Guess you learn something new every day!

    I think what stands out the most for me is the idea that part time work could be accepted despite not being paid appropriately. I guess I can relate to wanting more flexibility, thought I can’t help but feeling like this is wrong or something.

    I agree life needs to be more balanced in terms of keeping up with family and other people. Sometimes I get so wrapped up with my work I lose track of my family’s activities. Good reminder to spend more time with them!

    • Hi Jacob, I think that it’s very unfortunate that men have largely been made to feel that flexibility is wrong. It isn’t. I think over the next few years (I hope) that flexibility will not just be considered a women’s issue. It is something that should be available for everyone, for a variety of reasons. Family care is a big one. This is everyone’s responsibility (and privilege!).
      I totally understand that it’s easy to get wrapped up with work and lose track with what’s happening. I wish you all the very best. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts here.


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