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Work–life balance is a concept including proper prioritizing between "work" (career and ambition) and "lifestyle" (health, pleasure, leisure, family and spiritual development/meditation). Related, though broader, terms include "lifestyle calm balance" and "lifestyle choices".

History[edit]

The work-leisure dichotomy was invented in the mid-1800s.[1][2] Paul Krassner remarked that anthropologists, use a definition of happiness that is to have as little separation as possible "between your work and your play".[3][4] The expression "work–life balance" was first used in the United Kingdom in the late 1970s to describe the balance between an individual's work and personal life.[5] In the United States, this phrase was first used in 1986.

Most recently, there has been a shift in the workplace as a result of advances in technology. As Bowswell and Olson-Buchanan stated, "increasingly sophisticated and affordable technologies have made it more feasible for employees to keep contact with work". Employees have many methods, such as emails, computers, and cell phones, which enable them to accomplish their work beyond the physical boundaries of their office. Employees may respond to an email or a voice mail after-hours or during the weekend, typically while not officially "on the job". Researchers have found that employees who consider their work roles to be an important component of their identities will be more likely to apply these communication technologies to work while in their non-work domain.[6]

Some theorists suggest that this blurred boundary of work and life is a result of technological control. Technological control "emerges from the physical technology of an organization".[7] In other words, companies use email and distribute smartphones to enable and encourage their employees to stay connected to the business even when they are not in the office. This type of control, as Barker argues, replaces the more direct, authoritarian control, or simple control, such as managers and bosses. As a result, communication technologies in the temporal and structural aspects of work have changed, defining a "new workplace" in which employees are more connected to the jobs beyond the boundaries of the traditional workday and workplace.[6] The more this boundary is blurred, the higher work-to-life conflict is self-reported by employees.[6]

Many authors believe that parents being affected by work-life conflict will either reduce the number of hours one works where other authors suggest that a parent may run away from family life or work more hours at a workplace.[8] This implies that each individual views work-life conflict differently.

Employee assistance professionals say there are many causes for this situation ranging from personal ambition and the pressure of family obligations to the accelerating pace of technology.[9] According to a recent study for the Center for Work-Life Policy, 1.7 million people[where?] consider their jobs and their work hours excessive because of globalization.[citation needed]

Work statistics[edit]

According to a survey conducted by the National Life Insurance Company, four out of ten U.S. employees state that their jobs are "very" or "extremely" stressful.[9] Those in high-stress jobs are three times more likely than others to suffer from stress-related medical conditions and are twice as likely to quit. The study states that women, in particular, report stress related to the conflict between work and family.

In the study, Work-Family Spillover and Daily Reports of Work and Family Stress in the Adult Labor Force , researchers found that with an increased amount of negative spillover from work to family, the likelihood of reporting stress within the family increased by 74%, and with an increased amount of negative spillover from family to work the likelihood to report stress felt at work increased by 47%.[10]

Employee benefits in the United States –MARCH 2011 Paid leave benefits continued to be the most widely available benefit offered by employers, with paid vacations available to 91 percent of full-time workers in private industry in March 2011, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Access to these benefits, however, varied by employee and establishment characteristics. In private industry, paid vacation benefits were available to only 37 percent of part-time workers. Paid sick leave was available to 75 percent of full-time workers and 27 percent of part-time workers. Paid vacations were available to 90 percent of workers earning wages in the highest 10th percent of private industry employees and only to 38 percent of workers in the lowest 10 percent of private industry wage earners. Access to paid sick leave benefits ranged from 21 percent for the lowest wage category to 87 percent for the highest wage category. These data are from the National Compensation Survey (NCS), which provides comprehensive measures of compensation cost trends and incidence and provisions of employee benefit plans.[11]

According to 2010 National Health Interview Survey Occupational Health Supplement data, 16% of U.S. workers reported difficulty balancing work and family. Imbalance was more prevalent among workers aged 30–44 (19%) compared with other age groups; non-Hispanic black workers (19%) compared with non-Hispanic white workers (16%), and Hispanic workers (15%); divorced or separated workers (19%) compared with married workers (16%), widowed workers (13%), and never married workers (15%); and workers having a Bachelor’s degree and higher (18%) compared with workers having a high school diploma or G.E.D. (16%), and workers with less than a high school education (15%). Workers in agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting industries (9%) had a lower prevalence rate of work-family imbalance compared to all employed adults (16%). Among occupations, a higher prevalence rate of work-family imbalance was found in legal occupations (26%), whereas a lower prevalence rate was observed for workers in office and administrative support (14%) and farming, forestry, and fishing occupations (10%).[12]

Stress[edit]

The number of stress-related disability claims by American employees has doubled[when?] according to the Employee Assistance Professionals Association in Arlington, Virginia. Seventy-five to ninety percent of physician visits are related to stress and, according to the American Institute of Stress, the cost to industry has been estimated at $200 billion-$300 billion a year.[9]

Steven L. Sauter, chief of the Applied Psychology and Ergonomics Branch of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Cincinnati, Ohio, states that recent studies show that "the workplace has become the single greatest source of stress".[9] Michael Feuerstein, professor of clinical psychology at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences at Bethesda Naval Hospital states, "We're seeing a greater increase in work-related neuroskeletal disorders from a combination of stress and ergonomic stressors".[9]

It is clear that problems caused by stress have become a major concern to both employers and employees. Symptoms of stress are manifested both physiologically and psychologically. Persistent stress can result in cardiovascular disease, sexual health problems, a weaker immune system and frequent headaches, stiff muscles, or backache. It can also result in poor coping skills, irritability, jumpiness, insecurity, exhaustion, and difficulty concentrating. Stress may also perpetuate or lead to binge eating, smoking, and alcohol consumption.

According to James Campbell Quick, a professor of organizational behavior at the University of Texas-Arlington, "The average tenure of presidents at land-grant universities in the past ten years has dropped from approximately seven to three-and-a-half years".[9]

The feeling that simply working hard is not enough anymore is acknowledged by many other American workers. "To get ahead, a seventy-hour work week is the new standard. What little time is left is often divided up among relationships, kids, and sleep." This increase in work hours over the past two decades means that less time will be spent with family, friends, and community as well as pursuing activities that one enjoys and taking the time to grow personally and spiritually.[citation needed]

Texas Quick, an expert witness at trials of companies who were accused of overworking their employees, states that "when people get worked beyond their capacity, companies pay the price." [9] Although some employers believe that workers should reduce their own stress by simplifying their lives and making a better effort to care for their health, most experts feel that the chief responsibility for reducing stress should be management.

According to Esther M. Orioli, president of Essi Systems, a stress management consulting firm, "Traditional stress-management programs placed the responsibility of reducing stress on the individual rather than on the organization-where it belongs. No matter how healthy individual employees are when they start out, if they work in a dysfunctional system, they’ll burn out." [9]

Formation of the "ideal worker" and gender differences[edit]

Work-life conflict is not gender-specific. According to the Center for American Progress, 90 percent of working mothers and 95 percent of working fathers report work-family conflict.[13] However, because of the social norms surrounding each gender role, and how the organization views its ideal worker, men and women handle the work-life balance differently. Organizations play a large part in how their employees deal with work-life balance. Some companies have taken proactive measures in providing programs and initiatives to help their employees cope with work-life balance (see: Responsibility of the employer).

Work-life conflict may come from organizational norms and ideologies. As a macro structure, the organization maintains the locus of power. Organizations, through its structure, practices, symbols and discourse, create and reproduce a dominant ideology. The dominant ideology is what drives organizational power and creates organizational norms.

At the top of the organizational hierarchy, the majority of individuals are males, and assumptions can be made regarding their lack of personal experience with the direct and indirect effects of work-family conflict.[13] For one, they may be unmarried and have no thought as to what "normal" family responsibilities entail. On the other hand, the high-level manager may be married, but his wife, due to the demands of the husband’s position, has remained at home, tending solely to the house and children. Ironically, these are the individuals creating and reforming workplace policies.[14]

Workplace policies, especially regarding the balance between family/life and work, create an organizational norm in which employees must fall into. This type of organizational behavior, according to Dennis Mumby, "contribut[es] in some ways to the structuring of organizational reality, and hence organizational power." [15]

The reality of what employees experience, specifically in regards to work-life balance, is a direct result of power operating covertly through ideological controls. This is seen in the ideological norm of the "ideal worker." Many organizations view the ideal worker as one who is "committed to their work above all else".[16] "Ideal workers" are those that demonstrate extra-role behaviors, which are seen as positive attributes.

Alternatively, those who are perceived as having to divide their time (and their commitments) are seen not as dedicated to the organization. As research has shown, a manager’s perception of a subordinate’s commitment to the organization is positively associated with the individual’s promotability. Hoobler et al.’s (2009) findings mirrored the perceived commitment-to-promotability likelihood.[17]

Often, these perceptions are placed on the female worker. Managers who perceived their female employees of maintaining high work-family conflict were presumed as not as committed to the organization, therefore not worthy of advancement. This negatively impacts working mothers as they may be "inaccurately perceived to have less commitment to their organizations than their counterparts, their advancement in organizations may be unfairly obstructed".[16]

Working mothers often have to challenge perceptions and stereotypes that evolve as a working woman becomes a working mother. Working mothers are perceived as less competent and less worthy of training than childless women.[18] Another study, focusing on professional jobs, found that mothers were 79 percent less likely to be hired and are typically held to a higher standard of punctuality and performance than childless women.[13] The moment when she becomes a mother, a working woman is held at a completely different norm than her childless colleagues. In the same Cuddy et al. (2004) study, men who became fathers were not perceived as any less competent, and in fact, their perceived warmth increased.[18]

The ways in which corporations have modelled the "ideal worker" does not compliment the family lifestyle, nor does it accommodate it. Long hours and near complete devotion to the profession makes it difficult for working mothers to participate in getting ahead in the workplace.[14] A Fortune article found that among the most powerful women in business (female CEOs, presidents and managing directors of major corporations), 29 percent were childless compared to 90 percent of men who were parents (;[14][19]).

Should a woman seek a position of power within an organization, she must consider the toll on other facets of her life, including hobbies, personal relationships and families. As Jeffrey Pfeffer states: "Time spent on the quest for power and status is time you cannot spend on other things, such as … family…The price seems to be particularly severe for women".[20] Many executive jobs require a substantial amount of overtime, which as a mother, many cannot devote because of family obligations.[14] Consequently, it is nearly impossible for a working mother in a top management position to be the primary caretaker of her child.[14] Work life balance should be maintained for an efficient and effective life.

Perceptions and gender differences[edit]

This circumstance only increases the work-life balance stress experienced by many women employees.

Research conducted by the Kenexa Research Institute (KRI), a division of Kenexa, evaluated how male and female workers perceive work-life balance and found that women are more positive than men in how they perceive their company’s efforts to help them balance work and life responsibilities. The report is based on the analysis of data drawn from a representative sample of 10,000 U.S. workers who were surveyed through WorkTrends, KRI’s annual survey of worker opinions.

The results indicated a shift in women’s perceptions about work-life balance. In the past, women often found it more difficult to maintain balance due to the competing pressures at work and demands at home.[21]

“The past two decades have witnessed a sharp decline in men’s provider role, caused in part by growing female labor participation and in part by the weakening of men’s absolute power due to increased rates of unemployment and underemployment” states sociologist Jiping Zuo. She continues on to state that “Women’s growing earning power and commitment to the paid workforce together with the stagnation of men’s social mobility make some families more financially dependent on women. As a result, the foundations of the male dominance structure have been eroded.” [22]

Concerns of men and women alike[edit]

Similar discrimination is experienced by men who take time off or reduce working hours for taking care of the family.

For many employees today—both male and female—their lives are becoming more consumed with a host of family and other personal responsibilities and interests. Therefore, in an effort to retain employees, it is increasingly important for organizations to recognize this balance.[21]

Young generation views[edit]

According to Kathleen Gerson, Sociologist, young people "are searching for new ways to define care that do not force them to choose between spending time with their children and earning an income" and "are looking for definition of personal identity that do not pit their own development against creating committed ties to others"[23][24] readily. Young adults believe that parents should get involved and support the children both economically and emotionally, as well as share labor equally. Young people do not believe work-life balance is possible and think it is dangerous to build a life dependent on another when relationships are unpredictable. They are looking for partners to share the house work and family work together.[24][25] Men and women believe that women should have jobs before considering marriage, for better life and to be happy in marriage. Young people do not think their mother’s generations were unhappy. They also do not think they were powerless because they were economically dependent.

5 Tips for Better Work-Life Balance[edit]

"A lot of people are having a more difficult time finding balance in their lives because there have been cutbacks or layoffs where they work. They're afraid it may happen to them, so they're putting in more hours," says psychologist Robert Brooks, PhD, co-author of The Power of Resilience: Achieving Balance, Confidence, and Personal Strength in Your Life. The 5 ways for a better work-life balance is as follows, 1. Build downtime into your schedule. 2. Drop activities that sap your time or energy. 3. Rethink your errands. 4. Get moving. 5. Remember that a little relaxation goes a long way. [26]

Identity through work[edit]

By working in an organization, employees identify, to some extent, with the organization, as part of a collective group.[27] Organizational values, norms and interests become incorporated in the self-concept as employees increase their identification with the organization. However, employees also identify with their outside roles, or their "true self".[28] Examples of these might be parental/caretaker roles, identifications with certain groups, religious affiliations, align with certain values and morals, mass media etc.

Employee interactions with the organization, through other employees, management, customers, or others, reinforces (or resists) the employee identification with the organization.[28] Simultaneously, the employee must manage their "true self" identification. In other words, identity is "fragmented and constructed" through a number of interactions within and out of the organization; employees don’t have just one self.

Most employees identify with not only the organization, but also other facets of their life (family, children, religion, etc.). Sometimes these identities align and sometimes they do not. When identities are in conflict, the sense of a healthy work-life balance may be affected. Organization members must perform identity work so that they align themselves with the area in which they are performing to avoid conflict and any stress as a result.

Women[edit]

Today there are many young women who do not want to just stay at home and do house work, but want to have careers. About 64% of mothers whose youngest child was under age six, and 77% of mothers with a youngest child age 6-17 were employed in 2010, indicating that the majority of women with dependent care responsibilities cannot or do not wish to give up careers. While women are increasingly represented in the work force, they still face challenges balancing work and home life. Both domestic and market labor compete for time and energy. “For women, the results show that only time spent in female housework chores has a significant negative effect on wages”.[citation needed]

Maternity leave[edit]

Maternity leave is a leave of absence for an expectant or new mother for the birth and care of the baby. This is a very important factor in creating a work-life balance for families, yet in the United States most states do not offer any paid time off, for this important time in ones life. Many mothers are forced to return to work only weeks after having given birth to their children; missing out on important bonding time with their child. At this age, newborn babies and their mother are forming an important bond and the child is learning to trust and count on their parents. Yet, they are often sent to daycare and are now being cared for by a non-family member. According to the US Census, Almost two-thirds of American women (62 percent) with a birth in the last year were in the labor force in 2008 http://www.census.gov/

Some new mothers (and fathers) will take unpaid time off, allowed by the Family and Medical Leave Act. The FMLA entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave. Eligible employees are entitled to twelve workweeks of leave in a 12-month period for:

  • the birth of a child and to care for the newborn child within one year of birth;
  • the placement with the employee of a child for adoption or

foster care and to care for the newly placed child within one year of placement; http://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/ Some states will allow paid time off for maternity leave under the states Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI).

State TDI Benefit
California 55% - 60% of highest quarterly earnings during a

12-month base period up to $959 (2009)

Hawaii 58% of average weekly wages up to $510 (2009)
New Jersey 66% of average weekly wages up to $524 (2008)
New York 50% of weekly wages up to $170 (2008)
Rhode Island 4.62% of employees highest calendar quarter

wages in the base year, up to $671, plus dependent allowance of $10 or 7% of weekly benefit for up to 5 dependents (2008)

http://www.paidfamilyleave.org/pdf/PaidLeaveinStates.pdf

At the state level, California was the first state to offer paid family leave benefits for its workers. While the benefits only last for 6 weeks [29] this is the first major step for maternity leave in the United States.New Jersey lawmakers are pushing legislation that would make their state the second state to add this worker benefit. Under one New Jersey proposal, workers who take leave would be paid through the state’s temporary disability insurance fund, "augmented by a 0.1 percent charge on workers’ weekly wages."[30] Traditionally, many conservatives have opposed paid family leave, but there is a sign that this mindset is beginning to change. Reverend Paul Schenck, a prominent member of the National Pro-Life Action Center recently stated that he would support paid maternity leave on the assumption that it might encourage women to follow through with their pregnancies instead of having abortions. According to Heyman, "Across the political spectrum, people are realizing these policies have an enormous impact on working families. If you look at the most competitive economies in the world, all the others except the U.S. have these policies in place." [30]

The United States is not as workplace family-oriented as many other wealthy countries. According to a study released by Harvard and McGill University researchers in February 2007, workplace policies for families in the U.S. are weaker than those of all high-income countries and even many middle-and low-income countries.

For example, the study notes that the United States is one of only five countries out of 173 that does not guarantee some form of paid maternity leave. (The other countries are Lesotho, Liberia, Swaziland, and Papua New Guinea).[30] Other differences include the fact that fathers are granted paid paternity leave or paid parental leave in sixty-five countries; thirty one of these countries offer at least fourteen weeks of paid leave. The U.S. does not guarantee this to fathers.(survey) Sweden, Denmark and Norway have the highest level of maternity benefits—Sweden provides 68 weeks paid maternity leave, Norway provides 56 weeks paid maternity leave and Denmark provides 52.[31]

Men[edit]

Men know that work alone may not provide their lives with meaning. Young men can lose their meaning of life; they want a balance between paid work and personal attachments without being victimized at work.[24][25] More men are realizing that work is not their only primary source of fulfillment from life. A new study on fatherhood (2010) shows that more men are looking for alternatives to their 40-hour workweek in order to spend more time with their family. Though working less means a smaller paycheck and higher stress levels, men are looking for flexibility just as much as women. However, with an ever-changing society, flexibility is becoming much more apparent. “It seems that some traditional stereotypes are starting to lessen just a bit in terms of who’s responsible for care of the children” says human resource specialist Steve Moore. Traditionalism is becoming less frequent due to what’s actually practical for each individual family.[32]

Men often face unequal opportunity to family life as they are often expected to be the financial supporter of the family unit, “[t]he masculine ideal of a worker unencumbered by caregiving obligations is built into workplace structures and patterns of reward.”[33]

Consequences of an imbalance[edit]

Mental health is a balancing act that may be affected by four factors: the influence of unfavourable genes, by wounding trauma, by private pressures and most recently by the stress of working.[34] Many people expose themselves unsolicited to the so-called job stress, because the "hard worker" enjoys a very high social recognition. These aspects can be the cause of an imbalance in the areas of life. But there are also other reasons which can lead to such an imbalance.

Remarkable is, for example, the increase in non-occupational activities with obligation character, which include mainly house and garden work, maintenance and support of family members or volunteer activities. All this can contribute to the perception of a chronic lack of time.[35] This time pressure is, amongst others, influenced by their own age, the age and number of children in the household, marital status, the profession and level of employment as well as the income level.[36] The psychological strain, which in turn affects the health, increases due to the strong pressure of time, but also by the complexity of work, growing responsibilities, concern for long-term existential protection and more.[37] The mentioned stresses and strains could lead in the long term to irreversible, physical signs of wear as well as to negative effects on the human cardiovascular and immune systems.[38]

Prominent cultural beliefs that parenthood is the best avenue for a happy fulfilling life may not be justified. In, The Joys of Parenthood Reconsidered, what was found is the opposite, that parents actually suffer worse mental and physical health than childless adults. This is associated with the high costs of parenthood described in the article. Simon states that, “In America we lack institutional supports that would help ease the social and economic burdens associated with parenthood.” [39]

Psychoanalysts diagnose uncertainty as the dominant attitude to life in the postmodern society.[40] This uncertainty can be caused by the pressure which is executed from the society to the humans. It is the uncertainty to fail, but also the fear of their own limits, not to achieve something what the society expects, and especially the desire for recognition in all areas of life.[40] In today's society we are in a permanent competition. Appearance, occupation, education of the children - everything is compared to a media staged ideal. Everything should be perfect, because this deep-rooted aversion to all average, the pathological pursuit to excellence - these are old traditions.[40] Who ever wants more - on the job, from the partner, from the children, from themselves - will one day be burned out and empty inside. He is then faced with the realization that perfection does not exist.[41] Who is nowadays empty inside and burned out, is in the common language a Burnout. But due to the definitional problems Burnout is till this date not a recognized illness.[34] An attempt to define this concept more closely, can be: a condition that gets only the passionate, that is certainly not a mental illness but only a grave exhaustion (but can lead to numerous sick days).[34] It can benefit the term that it is a disease model which is socially acceptable and also, to some extent, the individual self-esteem stabilizing. This finding in turn facilitates many undetected depressed people, the way to a qualified treatment.[34] According to experts in the field are, in addition to the ultra hard-working and the idealists mainly the perfectionist, the loner, the grim and the thin-skinned, especially endangered of a burnout. All together they usually have a lack of a healthy distance to work.[34]

Another factor is also, that for example decision-makers in government offices and upper echelons are not allowed to show weaknesses or signs of disease etc., because this would immediately lead to doubts of the ability for further responsibility. Only 20% of managers (e.g. in Germany) do sports regularly and als only 2% keep regularly preventive medical check-up.[42] In such a position other priorities seem to be set and the time is lacking for regular sports. Frightening is that the job has such a high priority, that people waive screening as a sign of weakness. In contrast to that, the burnout syndrome seems to be gaining popularity. There seems nothing to be ashamed to show weaknesses, but quite the opposite: The burnout is part of a successful career like a home for the role model family.[43] Besides that the statement which describes the burnout as a "socially recognized precious version of the depression and despair that lets also at the moment of failure the self-image intact" fits and therefore concludes "Only losers become depressed, burnout against it is a diagnosis for winners, more precisely, for former winners.".[44]

However, it is fact that four out of five Germans complain about too much stress. One in six under 60 swallows at least once a week, a pill for the soul, whether it is against insomnia, depression or just for a bit more drive in the stressful everyday life.[40] The phases of burnout can be described, among other things, first by great ambition, then follows the suppression of failure, isolation and finally, the cynical attitude towards the employer or supervisor. Concerned persons have very often also anxiety disorders and depressions, which are serious mental diseases. Depressions are the predominant causes of the nearly 10,000 suicides that occur alone each year in Germany.[34] The implications of such imbalances can be further measured in figures: In 1993, early retirement due to mental illness still made 15.4 percent of all cases. In 2008, there were already 35.6 percent. Even in the days of illness, the proportion of failures due to mental disorders increased. Statisticians calculated that 41 million absent days in 2008 went to the account of these crises, which led to 3.9 billion euros in lost production costs.[34]

Responsibility of the employer[edit]

Companies have begun to realize how important the work-life balance is to the productivity and creativity of their employees.[citation needed] Research by Kenexa Research Institute in 2007 shows that those employees who were more favourable toward their organization’s efforts to support work-life balance also indicated a much lower intent to leave the organization, greater pride in their organization, a willingness to recommend it as a place to work and higher overall job satisfaction.[citation needed]

Employers can offer a range of different programs and initiatives, such as flexible working arrangements in the form of part-time, casual and telecommuting work. More proactive employers can provide compulsory leave, strict maximum hours and foster an environment that encourages employees not to continue working after hours.

It is generally only highly skilled workers that can enjoy such benefits as written in their contracts, although many professional fields would not go so far as to discourage workaholic behaviour.[citation needed] Unskilled workers will almost always have to rely on bare minimum legal requirements.[citation needed] The legal requirements are low in many countries, in particular, the United States. In contrast, the European Union has gone quite far in assuring a legal work-life balance framework, for example pertaining to parental leave and the non-discrimination of part-time workers.[citation needed]

According to Stewart Friedman—professor of Management and founding director of the Wharton School’s Leadership Program and of its Work/Life Integration Project—a "one size fits all" mentality in human resources management often perpetuates frustration among employees. "[It’s not an] uncommon problem in many HR areas where, for the sake of equality, there's a standard policy that is implemented in a way that's universally applicable -- [even though] everyone's life is different and everyone needs different things in terms of how to integrate the different pieces. It's got to be customized." [45]

Friedman’s research indicates that the solution lies in approaching the components of work, home, community, and self as a comprehensive system. Instead of taking a zero-sum approach, Friedman’s Total Leadership program teaches professionals how to successfully pursue "four-way wins"—improved performance across all parts of life.

Although employers are offering many opportunities to help their employees balance work and life, these opportunities may be a catch twenty-two for some female employees. Even if the organization offers part-time options, many women will not take advantage of it as this type of arrangement is often seen as "occupational dead end".[14]

Even with the more flexible schedule, working mothers opt not to work part-time because these positions typically receive less interesting and challenging assignments; taking these assignments and working part-time may hinder advancement and growth. Even when the option to work part-time is available, some may not take advantage of it because they do not want to be marginalized.[14] This feeling of marginalization could be a result of not fitting into the "ideal worker" framework (see: Formation of the "ideal worker" and gender differences).

Additionally, some mothers, after returning to work, experience what is called the maternal wall. The maternal wall is experienced in the less desirable assignments given to the returning mothers. It is also a sense that because these women are mothers, they cannot perform as "ideal workers".[14] If an organization is providing means for working mothers and fathers to better balance their work-life commitments, the general organizational norm needs to shift so the "ideal worker" includes those who must manage a home, children, elderly parents, etc.

Global comparisons[edit]

United States[edit]

According to a new study by Harvard and McGill University researchers, the United States lags far behind nearly all wealthy countries when it comes to family-oriented workplace policies such as maternity leave, paid sick days and support for breast feeding. Jody Heyman, founder of the Harvard-based Project on Global Working Families and director of McGill’s Institute for Health and Social Policy, states that, "More countries are providing the workplace protections that millions of Americans can only dream of. The U.S. has been a proud leader in adopting laws that provide for equal opportunity in the workplace, but our work/family protections are among the worst." [46]

This observation is being shared by many Americans today and is considered by many experts to be indicative of the current climate. However, the U.S. Labor Department is examining regulations that give workers unpaid leave to deal with family or medical emergencies (a review that supporters of the FMLA worry might be a prelude to scaling back these protections, as requested by some business groups). At the same time, Senator Chris Dodd from Connecticut is proposing new legislation that would enable workers to take six weeks of paid leave. Congress is also expected to reconsider the Healthy Families Act which is a bill that would require employers with at least fifteen employees to provide seven paid sick days per year.[46]

At least 107 countries protect working women’s right to breast-feed and, in at least seventy-three of them, women are paid. The U.S. does not have any federal legislation guaranteeing mothers the right to breast-feed their infants at work, but 24 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have laws related to breastfeeding in the workplace.[47]

There is not a federal law requiring paid sick days in the United States. When it comes to sick days, 145 countries provide sick days to their employees; 127 provide a week or more per year.

At least 134 countries have laws setting the maximum length of the work week; the U.S. does not have a maximum work week length and does not place any limits on the amount of overtime that an employee is required to work each week. (survey) Sweden, Denmark and Norway have the highest level of maternity benefits—Sweden provides 68 weeks paid maternity leave, Norway provides 56 weeks paid maternity leave and Denmark provides 52.[31]

Even when vacation time is offered in some U.S. companies, some choose not to take advantage of it. A 2003 survey by Management Recruiter International stated that fifty percent of executives surveyed didn’t have plans to take a vacation. They decided to stay at work and use their vacation time to get caught up on their increased workloads.[48]

American workers average approximately ten paid holidays per year while British workers average twenty-five holidays and German employees thirty. Americans are at "work" twelve weeks more a year in total hours than Europeans though they are no more productive than the average European.[citation needed]

European Union[edit]

In Europe, the Working Time Directive has implemented a maximum 48-hour working week.[49] Many countries have opted for fewer hours. France attempted to introduce a thirty-five hour workweek, and Finland experimented with a thirty-hour week in 1996.[citation needed] Contradictory to the Scandinavian countries, there is no evidence of state policies that absolutely encourage men to take on a larger share of domestic work in France, Portugal, or Britain.[50] In a 2007, the European Quality of Life Survey found that countries in south-eastern Europe had the most common problems with work-life balance. In Croatia and Greece, a little over 70% of working citizens say that they are too tired to do household jobs at least several times a month because of work.[51]

In Britain, legislation has been passed allowing parents of children under six to request a more flexible work schedule. Companies must approve this request as long as it does not damage the business. A 2003 Survey of graduates in the UK revealed that graduates value flexibility even more than wages.[52]

In all twenty-five European Union countries, voters "punish" politicians who try to shrink vacations. "Even the twenty-two days Estonians, Lithuanians, Poles and Slovenians count as their own is much more generous than the leave allotted to U.S. workers." [48] According to a report by the Families and Work Institute, the average vacation time that Americans took each year averaged 14.6 days.

According to Jeremy Reynolds, unions can lobby for benefits, pay, training, safety measures, and additional factors that impact the costs and benefits of work hours. “Unions can also have a more direct impact on hour mismatches through their efforts to change the length of the workday, work week, and work year, and to increase vacation and leave time.” This is why workers in countries where there are strong unions usually work fewer hours and have more generous leave policies than workers who are in countries where there are weaker unions.[53]

It is critical to mention that cultural factors influence why and how much we work. As stated by Jeremy Reynolds, “cultural norms may encourage work as an end in itself or as a means to acquiring other things, including consumer products.” This might be why Americans are bound to work more than people in other countries. In general, Americans always want more and more, so Americans need to work more in order to have the money to spend on these consumer products.[53]

See also[edit]

Stress related:

Labour:

Other

References[edit]

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Notes[edit]

External links[edit]


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