Many managers still abide by the myth that success can be measured by how many hours someone spends at their desk. Yet 25 years ago flex-time, compressed workweeks, job-sharing, and other flexible work arrangements emerged as better approaches that could make people more successful. Ten years ago the business case was proven that showed organizational practices, policies, programs, and philosophies designed to enhance work-life balance promoted success.
But barriers still exist that prevent employees from utilizing work-life options, and employers still don’t fully support them. Why? Mostly because of myths about men and women and their roles in the workplace.
Last fall WFD Consulting and WorldatWork partnered to investigate those myths and looked at business practices and attitudes in Brazil, China, India, Germany, the UK, and the USA. The results are worth reviewing if you’re trying to attract, motivate, and retain talented employees.
1. Men are more work-oriented than women
A persistent stereotype exists that men identify more with their work and women with personal and family matters. It turns out there’s little difference among generations or between men and women. The real difference is between emerging and developed countries where work identification is much higher in emerging markets than in developed ones. In fact, in India and Germany women are more work-oriented than men.
2. Women face more family challenges than men
Finding time to take care of the family has long been considered a working woman’s greatest challenge. But the study found that making time for family is especially challenging for men although it’s a problem for both genders—men have more difficulty finding time to spend with family, and women have more difficulty finding time for chores and errands.
3. Men struggle most to meet financial obligations
No surprise, financial stress is the top work-life issue for most people regardless of nationality or gender. But women, the study found, are slightly more stressed by money concerns. And the study found that employees are spending more and more on-the-job time trying to solve their financial problems. Employers can help by offering employee assistance and financial counseling programs, and by being as transparent as possible about the company financial situation and job security.
4. The ideal worker has few personal commitments
Business leaders around the world say they accept the business case for work-life programs and policies. But 50 percent of managers in emerging markets and 40 percent in developed markets still believe the myth that the most productive employees are those without a lot of personal commitments—and that might be true if there were such a person.
Sure, every manager wants employees “with their heads in the game.” But the reality, according to the Gallup Management Journal, is that 70 percent of employees are not engaged, and 20 percent are wandering around in a fog, or worse, actively trying to undermine their co-workers' efforts. Simply ignoring that fact won’t make them more productive.
5. Management is committed to work-life programs
Many execs say they’re committed to work-life integration, but that’s a myth. They’re worried that the risks associated with implementing such arrangements outweigh the benefits, according to the study. The evidence is that when companies do have programs in place, both men and women report being penalized for using those work-life benefits. In fact, according to the study, “Employees in emerging markets are almost three times more likely to experience a penalty for using flexible work arrangements and/or other work-life options than those in developed markets.”
6. The USA uses flex-work programs more than any other country
In his bestselling book Drive, Dan Pink observes, “...despite four decades of scientific research on human motivation, there’s an immense mismatch between what science knows and what management does...”
One surprising finding cropped up when employees were asked about their use of flexible work arrangements, and it supports Pink’s view. Developed, and presumably enlightened, countries would use workplace flexibility more than emerging countries, one would suspect; but that wasn’t the case. A quarter of managers surveyed in developed countries said they didn’t offer any flexible work arrangements, while only 13 percent in emerging countries didn’t.
To summarize, then, finding time for family is especially challenging for men and financial stress is a slightly greater issue for women than men, contrary to common myths. Business leaders around the world have bought into the business case for work-life effectiveness and have programs and policies in place, but the programs are often ineffective because managers still cling to the myth that the “ideal worker” is an employee with few personal commitments, even when there are few such people. And workers are afraid (based on experience) of being punished if they take advantage of work-life programs, such as flexible work hours.
Business managers need to ignore the myths and focus on creating workplaces that support both business objectives and individual needs. Work-life effectiveness programs will do that.
Tom Harnish is a serial entrepreneur. Always on the bleeding edge of technology, he learned what works (and what doesn't) leading projects, products and companies to success (mostly). He can't play a lot of musical instruments.