GREATER Expectations

By Rice, Maureen | Management Today, June 2001 | Go to article overview

GREATER Expectations


Rice, Maureen, Management Today


Things have changed since we brought managers into the thick of the work/life

debate with our first survey into staff attitudes in 1998. Today, achieving a proper balance is seen as an entitlement by almost all those who work. But are they getting there? Maureen Rice reports on the latest MT/Ceridian survey

Three years is a long time in the new world of work. In 1998 we published 'The Great Work/Life Debate', a groundbreaking study of issues surrounding work/life balance. It painted a worrying picture of a senior-level workforce profoundly disaffected with many of the structures and demands of work, and the price they paid for their careers in personal time and family life. The emotional responses were surprisingly -- even shockingly -- strong: frustration, exhaustion and resentment were more deeply felt and widely spread than most employers had reckoned with. How are managers and professionals feeling today? Has anything changed? Has the speed of change in all areas of work -- from technology to the 24/7 service culture -- translated into different working relationships and models?

Using our original 1998 survey as the benchmark, we teamed up once again with Ceridian Performance Partners, a leading international provider of corporate work/life consulting and services, to find out. As in our previous annual surveys, we invited professionals and managers from all over the country and across all sectors to answer questions about their attitudes to work, and the reality of their daily lives. The results are encouraging and intriguing. And, as we move to phase two of the debate, they provide some surprising sign posts for organisations and individuals trying to create a blueprint for new ways of working.

First, some good news: there's evidence that the long-hours culture is levelling off and even improving. In 1998, 52.5% of the managers surveyed worked 41-50 hours a week. This year, that proportion has fallen slightly to 50%; and whereas those working a marathon 50-plus hours made up a quarter in 1998, they are only a fifth in 2001. There has been a significant increase in the numbers who work 37 hours or less in an average week- up from 21% in 1998 to 30% this year. Most managers still work a five day week, but those who work six days has halved and the small minority who work four days or less has risen by more than 60%.

Although most of our managers still work a longer week than the national average (around 40 hours for men and 34 hours for women), they largely feel that this is justified by their high level of responsibility, and close to 70% feel that they have at least reasonable control over their hours of work.

But this is where things become slightly more confused and a lot more interesting. Cutting back on hours in the office -- and even introducing flexible working schedules -- is not having the expected effect on relieving pressure and improving the sense of balance. A whopping three-quarters of respondents report that their work load pressure has increased over the past three years, and almost half say they have less time now for personal pursuits such as sports or study. The number of managers who feel they have been forced to put work before home and family life is slightly up.

More than a third of our managers report that flexible work options are now, in theory, on offer at their organisation, but only a minority believe that taking them up would not be career-limiting in practice. And anyway, well over half report that flexible working doesn't solve the problem of workload. And there, apparently, go two of the sacred cows of the work/life movement. If a 'manageable' working week and flexible work policies don't help, what will? Have work/life campaigners -- and the Government -- been barking up the wrong tree? What do overworked managers want?

This apparent contradiction -- shorter hours but greater pressure -- reflects just how far the work/life agenda has drilled its way into our collective consciousness. …

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