With many American workers taking time off at this time of year, we thought it would be appropriate to gather current perspectives on the topics of workplace flexibility and work/life balance. In seeking a breadth of perspectives, we invited all of the folks in our network in HR roles and readers from 10 randomly-selected industries to participate. In addition, we invited members of ParentsWork to participate. ParentsWork is a non-profit, non-partisan organization of Illinois parents and grandparents dedicated to ensuring that resources and support are in place to help care for children and families.
w_l_balance_bythenumbersRespondents included 68 Winning Workplaces readers and 37 members of the ParentsWork network, bringing the total number of participants to 105. We thank ParentsWork Founder and Director Rhonda Present for reaching out to her network for this survey.

The results are generally encouraging. Ninety-one percent of respondents’ firms – almost a quarter of which are nonprofits – have work/life initiatives in place, including on-site child care, emergency child care assistance, eldercare initiatives, educational and community leave, employee assistance programs and a fitness facility/fitness membership reimbursement. Most prevalent of these initiatives are family leave policies (77 percent of firms) and internal or external educational or training opportunities (69 percent).

More than two-thirds of respondents (70 percent) agree or strongly agree that their organizations’ benefits and guidelines allow them to balance work and personal commitments. This coincides with the fact that almost the same number of respondents (69 percent) feel that their management cares about helping employees balance their work and life demands.

Over half of respondents said they strongly agree that their supervisors are flexible when they have to take time off for a personal or family situation – especially when those situations are sudden and unexpected. “My supervisor’s theory is, ‘If you take care of your family, you will take care of your job,'” wrote a Winning Workplaces subscriber from Michigan.

The majority of respondents (46 percent) say that their regular level of stress is not excessive, versus 33 percent of those who say it is excessive. Yet, those who experience excessive stress are also vocal regarding the nature of the stress.

“I’m never asked to take work home, but it’s the only way to accomplish what needs to be done,” a communication specialist from Kansas wrote. Another respondent, a finance assistant from Connecticut, said, “My job is routinely redesigned and fractionalized to the point that I don’t know what my responsibilities are.”

Two very different essay answers to this question speak to the huge impact the firm’s leadership and work culture have on workers’ impressions of on-the-job stress. While a user from Michigan said that, “If there is ever too much to do, someone else is assigned to help bear the load,” another user, a human resources manager from Minnesota, said, “Our division is understaffed to meet the expectations of the organization. Projects and deadlines are given that are not realistic.”

Intertwined with stress at work, and work/life balance, is the amount of work that employees take home with them on nights or weekends. Over half of both groups of respondents (55 percent) said they occasionally or routinely bring work home with them. “There is the expectation that exempt employees put in the hours needed to get the job done (even if it is working at home or on weekends),” the HR manager from Minnesota wrote.

We also received telling data when it comes to the use of vacation, personal or other leave. While a recent survey by the employment firm Hudson found that more than half of American workers fail to use all their vacation days, the overwhelming majority of respondents in our survey (83 percent) said they always or usually use up all their vacation days for the year.

What advice would respondents give their leadership on improving work/life balance at their enterprises? Not necessarily more time off or benefits designed to make their lives easier, respondents reported. “My advice to management would be [to] treat all employees fairly without regard to position status,” said an associate director from Illinois.

Those respondents in supervisory roles stressed the importance of making work/life balance a priority from the get-go, if it’s important to an organization’s values. “Work-life balance is possible,” concluded a firm’s managing member, “when everyone carries their appropriate load and when there is a proper match up with skills and work.”