Managers and employees have very different views of work-life balance

New survey finds a disconnect on what constitutes a fair workload

What does work-life balance mean to you? New survey data suggest that human resources managers and workers are often far apart on what constitutes an acceptable work load, Lydia Dishman writes in Fast Company.

A disconnect between workers and HR

The survey, which was conducted by Workplace Trends, asked 1,087 professionals and 116 HR staff about their views on workplace flexibility. It found that 45% of currently employed respondents said they wanted more time for personal activities. However, 67% of HR professionals said they thought workers already had a good work-life balance.

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While it is unsurprising that many workers want more personal time, the divergent views between the rank-and-file and HR are striking in light of the recent trend to give workers more flexibility, according to Dishman. The survey found 87% of HR leaders said letting employees work from home periodically had boosted job satisfaction, and 29% said they spent more than $40,000 dollars implementing flex-time policies last year.

Managers see workplace flexibility as a worthy investment. In fact, seven in 10 HR staff saying they used workplace flexibility policies to recruit and retain talent. Why then do many workers still report feeling overburdened by the demands of their job?

For starters, approximately 20% of respondents said they spent 20 hours a week working outside the office, and 64% of employers said they expected employees to be available outside of working hours.

Roots of the problem

Some people attribute the issue to a culture of excessive work. "If top management regularly logs 60 to 80 hour workweeks, the expectation is that lower-level employees will do the same," says Cheryl Palmer, an executive coach.

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The recession may have also played a role in increasing employees' average workload, says Rodd Wagner, a management consultant and author of a book on employee engagement. "Companies, afraid of losing a deal or dropping the ball for a customer, have passed the pressure on to employees," he says, adding that the recession made such practices the norm.

Finding a balance

Some pointed out that part of the problem is a natural disagreement among workers about the optimum work-life balance. "Research suggests that people differ when it comes to their preferences on separating or integrating work and family," says Emily Hunter, assistant professor of management in Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business. "Balance is in the eye of the beholder."

Executives said the best way to make sure employees were able to find a balance was to have clear communication. Managers should make sure "there aren't any assumptions being made about time being spent working outside of office hours," says Robin Richards, CEO of CareerArc. He suggests that leaders "learn from employees what it is they are working on during those hours" and adapt accordingly, either by setting clearer expectations or changing policies to lighten the load (Dishman, Fast Company, 2/5).

The takeaway: HR and workers have different perspectives on the state of work-life balance, but experts say clear lines of communication can help employees find the flexibility they need.


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