The Great Work-Life Gap

How would you answer these questions? Agree or disagree:

  • Employees who are highly committed to their personal/family lives cannot be highly committed to their work
  • The ideal employee is available to discuss business needs regardless of business hours
  • Employees who use flexible work arrangements will not advance very far in this organisation
  • The most productive employees in your organization are those without a lot of personal commitments.

I was in Washington D.C. a few months ago to attend the Work-Life Focus 2012 and Beyond Conference, to hear and interact with the leading thought leaders on flexible workplaces. It is organised by the Society for Human Resource Management, and the Families and Work Institute.

The questions above are from a Work Dominance Index that reveal to what extent you believe that “the ideal workers are those for whom work dominates over personal/family life”.

This came out of a study on Gender & Global Differences in Work-Life Effectiveness, conducted by WFD Consulting and Alliance for Work-Life Progress across the US, Europe, Brazil, China and India. It was interesting as they found not very many differences – and many similarities – across gender, generations and both developed and emerging markets.

First and foremost, the study puts to paid the myth that only women are looking for work-life flexibility. The study confirms that an increasing number of men are seeking flexible workplaces. Talented men and women are seeking the same reward – the flexibility to meet both their work and non-work needs in a harmonious way. Work-life is not just for women; it is for both men and women, and the data proves it.

However, the study also showed that senior executives, particularly in emerging markets, tend to subscribe the ‘ideal worker norm’ of the 19th century: that the ideal workers are those for whom work dominates over personal and family life.

In short, they measure an employee’s productivity by face-time, hard work and sacrifice, rather than by outcomes. These senior executives had established their own careers this way, and now they expected others to do the same. While they espoused and seemingly understand the business case for work-life, these executives, managers and supervisors were still stuck in the 19th century concept of work.

This has given rise to what I call the Great Work-life Gap: the gap between the Expectations of employers and the Reality of the new workplace.

My take is that the demands of today’s marketplace has given rise to a different model of the ideal worker. Today, the model employee that organisations need looks a lot more like this:

  • Result-oriented
  • Team-oriented
  • Committed and can be trusted
  • Facilitates communication between team members.

These qualities – particularly trust – cannot be measured by face-time. In seeking the ‘ideal worker’ of the 19th century, employers are likely to miss out on talent that is far more valuable in this new marketplace.

So what can we do to bridge the gap? We need to:

  • Broaden our definition of productivity, looking at an expanded scope or perhaps a matrix that includes other measures of productivity other than face-time
  • Convincingly measure the business outcomes of work-life, and
  • Effectively operationalize work-life, instead of dealing with each case as an exception every time a work-life request arises.

One thing is for sure: Across the globe, talented people are seeking for flexible workplaces. If you won’t welcome them, some other organisation will.

Learn more about Contemporary Organisations and how you can create a flexible workplace that is Generations-ready.

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