Since the 1960s the family dynamic has been changing, with women more involved in the workforce and men more involved in family life. This shift in balance is a shift in the right direction for equality.
However, research demonstrates workplaces have not kept up with these trends, making work-life integration difficult (especially for families). Why this might be the case is complex. Interestingly, much of it may be psychological, in that our identities of what it is to be ‘a good person’ are bound up tightly with being seen as a good, hard-working, always available, employee.
Without effective work-life integration, families end up instead with ‘work-life conflict’. This conflict costs families and employers. Studies show these costs include:
- Decreased job satisfaction,
- Decreased commitment,
- Increased absenteeism,
- Stronger intentions to quit,
- Here’s the kicker; reduced job performance as well as less overall career success.
Rather shockingly the gains that were starting to be made in work-life flexibility (in America at least) took a dramatic backward step during and following the 2008 recession.
It gets worse – both quantitative and qualitative research points to the fact that those that take up available flexible working arrangements are disadvantaged. They are considered time deviants, are often marginalised and experience less wage growth, poorer performance reviews and are seen as less motivated than their colleagues (ouch). You can see these findings linking to the idea of what it means to be a ‘good worker’ and hence the potential punish (even subconsciously) those others we perceive who are not living up to this (aka those working flexibly).
What can we do?
On a broader level, we can get talking and sharing, we can move the dialogue on. Flexcareers (and similar sites) existence is a great example of this. We can also share these findings with organisations we belong to.
Those of us in leadership positions can watch carefully for any biases we might be unconsciously displaying in performance discussions and pay reviews.
Those already in ‘flex roles’ can take responsibility for ensuring their role responsibilities and targets are very clear and documented. This way these notes can be referred back to during performance appraisals and salary reviews. Some readers may even have bosses they can talk to transparently e.g. “I am aware that research indicates those on flexible work arrangements can be subject to certain disadvantages, I want to talk very clearly about my role and your expectations to ensure I am not one of those statistics”.
There is one area those of us who are women have real power and that is in how we treat other women.
You may be shocked to realise some of the worst mistreatment of female workers (especially the most competent ones) is from fellow females not from males! I know I am really beating us up with the facts today, sorry. However, knowledge is power. Here is some more; scientists suspect ‘identity threat’ underlies this nasty fact. That is, we perceive highly success ‘others’ as a threat to our own identity.
There is hope
As mentioned, the existence and rapid growth of sites like Flexcareers is a positive sign. We are also seeing start-up organisations that make work-life flexibility a given, often by not even having an office to go to.
I do some of my consulting with such an organisation. I am free to work from where and when I wish to and arrange client meetings at times and places that suit all (sometimes via Skype). There is absolutely zero risk of being seen as time deviant by my colleagues (whom it is not uncommon to be talking to after dinner, but likewise, if I ran into them at the beach at 11am on a Tuesday that would not go “oh there goes that time deviant skipping on the beach, tut! tut!”).
I also think there is hope in our region (Australasia). The study I am referring to in this post is USA centric, where things are somewhat tougher (where even annual leave is a sorry two weeks). We have more realistic leave entitlements and have also hit international headlines this year with a New Zealand company trialling a 4 day week (on the same pay).
Finally, there is also hope in getting support from researchers, as the research community begins to focus more on organisational wide factors, rather than the traditional focus on the individual experience of those experiencing work-life conflict or seeking work-life integration.
Links, References and all that Jazz
Much of the content of this post is based on the following academic article:
Williams, J. C., Berdahl, J. L., & Vandello, J. A. (2016). Beyond work-life “integration”. Annual review of psychology, 67, 515-539.
Quantitative Research: Uses data to uncover facts and trends, the methods tend to be very structured and involved lots of statistical analyses.
Qualitative Research: Is explorative and uses the likes of unstructured interviews and focus groups to try and uncover underlying reasons, motivations etc.