Work/home balance still a pipe dream

Leadership & Organization Development Journal

ISSN: 0143-7739

Article publication date: 1 March 2000




(2000), "Work/home balance still a pipe dream", Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 21 No. 2.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

Work/home balance still a pipe dream

Work/home balance still a pipe dream

Keywords: Family Life, Quality of working life, Executives

As people strive for balance in their work and home lives, new research indicates a serious mismatch between the values and expectations of individuals and company behaviour.

In this new millennium, executives are turning their back on a lifestyle dominated by work. Yet organisations are failing to curb the long hours culture and help employees achieve any balance in their lives, according to the third annual Quality of Working Life Report - the only five-year tracking study of its kind - by the Institute of Management (IM) and UMIST.

Almost six in ten executives say they value their work and home life equally, whilst the number who say they see their home life as more important has grown from a quarter to nearly a third since the start of the study. Yet only 15 per cent say their organisation makes any attempt to help them balance their work and home commitments. A total of 81 per cent of executives still work over 40 hours a week - the same as at the start of the study - and 32 per cent over 50 hours; 58 per cent believe their employer expects them to put in long hours.

Whilst almost half of professionals look forward to going to work and the majority have good relationships with their boss and colleagues, concern about the lack of balance in their lives and the negative effects of long hours, both personally and in terms of their productivity, has increased dramatically. A total of 87 per cent of executives say working long hours leaves them with no time for other interests (an increase from 77 per cent last year), while 71 per cent say it is actually damaging their health (up from 59 per cent); 86 per cent say it affects their relationship with their children (up from 73 per cent) and 79 per cent their relationship with their partner (up from 72 per cent). On a professional level, 68 per cent of executives say long hours reduces their productivity in the long run (up from 55 per cent in 1998).

Looking at the workplace today, executives say that in the space of just three years since the study began, the nature and expectations of their roles have changed. The biggest change, say 85 per cent, is the sheer volume of information they have to deal with. More than seven in ten executives say they now need a far broader range of skills to do their job, with IT, information management and people skills top of the list.

The line between work and home is blurring, meaning today's executives never switch off, just as their PCs and mobile phones are always switched on. More than three-quarters work over their contract hours and 83 per cent say their organisation continues to contact them about work matters even after they've left the office - a quarter (24 per cent) on a regular basis. The workplace has become more complex - essential tools of the trade for today's professional are a desktop PC (82 per cent), e-mail (72 per cent), a mobile phone (53 per cent), a laptop (32 per cent) and for a third, the Internet.

But the research suggests organisations have still to get to grips with helping employees tackle the surge in information and new ways in working. Eight in ten employees say the main reason for working long hours is to meet tight deadlines - an increase from 63 per cent last year. Two thirds of professionals say they feel under constant time pressure, and 54 per cent suffer from information overload - a steady increase from 45 per cent in 1997.

The drive for change in organisations, continues to grow. Over two thirds of executives say their organisations have restructured in the past year, an increase from 59 per cent in 1997. Executives say this has led to increased accountability (59 per cent), flexibility (46 per cent) and profitability (42 per cent), but at the cost of job insecurity (62 per cent), lower morale (58 per cent) and the erosion of motivation and loyalty (44 per cent). The research indicates that organisations are not doing nearly enough to value and gain the best from their people in the long term. Almost half of executives (48 per cent) say restructuring has led to the loss of key skills and knowledge in their organisation. Only 34 per cent think their organisation currently treats employees as its most important asset, and executives' top piece of advice to organisations to improve the quality of working life is to do more to value, reward and invest in their people.

Mary Chapman, director general of the Institute of Management, commented: "We are now half way through this five year study and whilst there has been a great deal of debate about meeting individual and company needs, organisations will ultimately be judged on what they achieve.

"Today's companies face a serious challenge. By the end of the study we hope to witness significant steps taken by organisations to work with their employees to achieve greater balance, leading to productivity gains for business and personal gains for individuals."

The report includes guidelines for improving the quality of working life. For further information, or a copy of the report The Quality of Working Life; 1999 Survey of Managers Changing Experience by Professors Les Worral and Cary Cooper, contact the IM Public Affairs department on +44 (0)171 497 0580.

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