Survey: Work/Life Balance Off-Kilter in US

News Updates

Work/life balance is a problem in the United States, say 89 percent of 1,043 Americans in survey findings released September 1, 2010.

And while more than two-thirds of 613 full- and part-time workers say they have adequate balance in their lives, the recession has upended that balance for 31 percent of workers. When that happens, time with family is the first thing affected, followed by personal down time.

“Far from having disappeared from public consciousness, the issue for work/life balance remains a concern to American workers,” because of, or in spite of, the recession, said Bradley Honan, vice president of StrategyOne, which conducted the online survey in August 2010.

Other findings:

  • Among the 89 percent of Americans who say work/life balance is a problem, 54 percent called it a “significant” problem.
  • 57 percent of workers think that their employer is doing enough to address work/life balance issues; 43 percent do not.
  • 51 percent of workers say their work/life balance has not changed because of the recession.
  • 38 percent of workers say their work/life balance has worsened because of the recession.
  • 37 percent of those who do not have adequate balance say time with family is the first thing that suffers; personal time spent reading or relaxing followed, at 22 percent.
  • 44 percent of men ages 34-54 say they do not have adequate work/life balance.

The issue of work/life balance has been on the front burner during 2010. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) in March 2010 participated in a White House forum on workplace flexibility, and in April 2010 SHRM testified before a Congressional hearing to voice support for legislation that would establish an award for employers who implement innovative work/life balance policies.

In May 2010, a Senate subcommittee held a hearing on “Work-Life Programs: Attracting, Retaining and Empowering the Federal Workforce.” During her subcommittee testimony, Kathleen Lingle, executive director for Alliance for Work-Life Progress at WorldatWork, pointed to examples of work/life strategies some private-sector employers are using:

  • Kellogg headquarters in Battle Creek, Mich., holds regular educational seminars to explain how to apply for and manage flexible schedules. It has online training for managers that includes a template for creating a balanced work environment.
  • Northwestern Memorial Healthcare in Chicago allows nurses and imaging professionals to choose their hours online; they may adjust their hours every six weeks.
  • Procter & Gamble headquarters in Ohio has quarterly FlexLife sessions to help employees determine if they’re living balanced lives and create plans for change.

“Finding a good work/life balance is important to everyone,” Lingle said in her testimony. “From experienced workers ages 50-65 to students just graduating from college, work/life programs appeal to workers in multiple generations, which is especially important with four generations currently working today.”

Additionally, more men are showing a preference for flexibility in their work schedules so they can spend more time with their family, she said.

She recommended some immediate tactics the federal government can take; some of her suggestions might also be applicable to the private sector, including:

  • Organizing all benefits, policies and practices around the most common life events that most who work outside the home experience—career entry, change in marital status, buying a home, having children, illness, caregiving for older relatives, retirement planning.
  • Asking employees how easily they can access and use the employer’s work/life initiatives, rather than the employer relying on unverified satisfaction scores.
  • Expanding narrow perceptions and practices surrounding flexible work arrangements.
  • Streamlining processes and peeling back cumbersome decision-making that relates to flexible work arrangements.
  • Empowering workers to take greater control and accountability for the conditions of their work.

“Far from just being happy, they have a job,” StratregyOne’s Honan noted in a news release about the work/life balance poll,“significant numbers of American workers are asking companies to step up to the plate and address this issue more effectively,” he said.

“Workers are being asked to do more with less, and the strain on them is clearly showing.”

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News.