Work-Life Benefits Need Support, Women Need New Work Model. (Workforce/Employment)

Marketing to Women: Addressing Women and Women's Sensibilities, November 2002 | Go to article overview

Work-Life Benefits Need Support, Women Need New Work Model. (Workforce/Employment)


Utilizing policies for flexible hours, telecommuting, and even maternity leave at companies where they maybe on the books but their use is frowned upon by managers was one of the chief topics of discussion at the 2002 Working Mother Work-Life Congress. Speakers commented on the need for companies to educate managers at all levels to create better support for work-life initiatives, especially those concerning flexibility. More than one participant noted wryly that "flexible" scheduling can really mean that the employee is expected to flex to the employer's needs: to be on-call before and after working hours, on weekends, and during vacations.

The best way to get buy-in from senior management, says Stephen Bear of Bristol-Myers Squibb, is to make a business case for such benefits, rather than emphasizing that it's enlightened to do so. Bear says his company's commitment to flexibility and work-life benefits stems from a belief that they ensure workers are as focused and productive as they can be.

This emphasis on productivity is a key selling point for many companies considering expanding or adding work-life policies. But even with support from the top, says Bear, it's still a challenge to convince managers at all levels to approve of their subordinates' requests for flextime, telecommuting, and parental leave. Encouraging managers to make use of work-life policies themselves can help attune them to their importance, but many managers are still stuck in a "face-time=dedication" mentality.

A panel of authors of books on working mothers and family life discussed the current state of women's work and home life balance and possible approaches for improving it. Several themes emerged, some of them indications of problem areas, others just trends to watch.

* The gap between top executives' compensation and workers' salaries is so large that it acts as an incentive to overwork. Those who reach the upper echelons (mostly men) have traded quality-of-life for advancement, and expect their employees to share these values.

* The boundaries between work and home have blurred for most workers, even those without work-life benefits. Both workers with traditional schedules and those with flexible schedules tend to fit life into the confines of work rather than work into life. Surveys show that workers of both sexes would be willing to trade some of their salary for more time off or a lighter workload. (This is borne out by the Ladies Home Journal study on page 7.)

* Growing divisiveness between women with children and those without highlights the need to expand work-life policies and benefits to apply equally to all workers, regardless of gender or parental status. There are also concerns that formally or informally restricting flexibility and leave to mothers will marginalize their work. …

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