Still Room for Improvement in Work Flex

October is National Work & Family Life Month

By Kathy Gurchiek Oct 7, 2013
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A majority of working Americans are satisfied with the boundaries they have between work and home, and slightly more than half say they never or rarely bring work home, according to a new national poll on work/life balance.

But while the findings are mostly positive, “there is some room for improvement,” said Dean Debnam, CEO of Workplace Options, which commissioned the poll.

He pointed to one question that noted, “Some people find they bring work home with them or are consumed with thoughts of work while they are at home.” Asked if they wished they had more of a boundary between work and family, four in 10 respondents said yes.

In fact, while 59 percent of respondents overall don’t desire more of a boundary, that attitude changes dramatically depending on the worker’s age. Seventy-one percent of those ages 18-29 want more of a separation between work and home life; by contrast, this is true of just 43 percent and 44 percent of those ages 30-45 and 46-65, respectively.

Maybe it has something to do with the higher percentage of younger employees reporting that they’ve missed family obligations because of work: 66 percent of those ages 18-29 vs. 45 percent of those 30-45 and 57 percent of those 46-65.

Those in the younger age bracket also feel pressured to take work-related phone calls and e-mails after hours or on weekends: 48 percent of those ages 18-29 vs. 31 percent of those 30-45 and 38 percent of those 46-65.

North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling conducted the national survey Sept.18-19, 2013, with 537 U.S. workers (the margin of error was plus or minus 4.2 percent). Seventy-two percent of the respondents work full time.

Other findings:

  • 51 percent overall are comfortable taking one day off from work, 64 percent are comfortable taking a few days off, and 59 percent are comfortable taking one week off.

  • 58 percent said their employer does not encourage them to use their paid time off and holidays.

  • 56 percent rarely or never bring work home.

  • 52 percent overall said their workplace does not support boundaries between work and home; more than half of those ages 46-65 felt this way.

  • 45 percent overall feel compelled to check in with the office while on vacation. This was true of 51 percent of those ages 18-29 and 33 percent of those 30-45 and 46-65.

  • 34 percent of those who feel compelled to check on work while vacationing believe that their supervisor expects them to do so.

“Work/life balance doesn’t begin and end with the average workday,” Debnam noted in a news release. “If your employees don’t feel comfortable using their vacation days, they might face issues associated with a lack of work/life balance: burn out, disengagement and presenteeism, just to name a few.”

October Observations

The Workplace Options findings were released in time for the 10th anniversary of National Work & Family Month in October.

Social media will be a key component to the annual campaign, sponsored by WorldatWork’s Alliance for Work-Life Progress. Rose Stanley, work-life practice leader at WorldatWork (@WorldatWork_RS), and Erika Chambers, work-life director at the University of Kentucky (@ErikaWendt), will conduct a tweet chat at 2 p.m. ET on Oct. 7. Follow the discussion by using the hashtag #WAWNWFM throughout October.

The goal of National Work & Family month, the Alliance says on its website, is “to encourage employers to think strategically about family-friendly policies and work-life benefits”—such as dependent care, workplace flexibility, and paid and unpaid time off—as a way to motivate and retain their workforce.

“In order for businesses, families and communities to thrive, employers and employees need to collaborate to find innovative ways to support work-life policies that make sense for their specific workplaces,” said Kathie Lingle, executive director of WorldatWork’s Alliance for Work-Life Progress, in a news release.

“National Work & Family Month gives employers an opportunity to evaluate their current work/life portfolios and determine if more can be done to improve their workplace for their employees and, ultimately, for working families.”

The Society for Human Resource Management’s 2013 Benefits Survey, conducted online in February with581 HR professionals, found that flextime has remained stable in recent years.

Paid time off was the leave benefit that more organizations offered in 2013 than in 2009, SHRM found. Fewer organizations in 2013 than in 2009 offered floating holidays, paid personal days, paid vacation leave donation program and paid sick leave donation program.

Workplace Option’s Debnam urged companies to make sure their employees take advantage of their benefits, including paid time off.

“Not taking time away from the office,” he added, “can negatively impact employee productivity the same way that always being plugged in or working 70 hours a week can.”

Kathy Gurchiek is the associate editor of HR News.

Resources:

Workplace Flexibility Resource Page, SHRM Discipline, Benefits

WORKFLEX: The Essential Guide to Effective and Flexible Workplaces, The SHRMStore

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