I came across an interesting article on Slate today. It reviews a Harvard Business Review study on work-life balance among executives. Among the most fascinating findings was that male executives, by and large, view work-life balance as a women’s issue–but to view that, and that only, misses the larger point about work-life balance. We don’t demand it enough.
It’s bad enough that the United States is one of the only countries without paid parental leave. And in fact, you don’t even have protected family and medical leave without both you AND your organization meeting a number of prerequisites such as working for the company for 1 year, meeting minimum hourly requirements, and also work for an organization that is actually covered by federal leave laws. Even then, your reward is 12 weeks of unpaid leave that allow you to return to a job with the same level of responsibility when you get back.
Most families are unable to afford two parents on FML at the same time. I know we can’t. One of us needs to be working. And I’m a fortunate dad. I work for an organization that permits me three weeks of paid parental leave without having to dip into my vacation or sick leave. Many new dads are expected to return to work the next day, or are forced to use sick/vacation leave to do so.
This is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to work-life balance. Many female executives in the study mentioned they didn’t have kids because it puts them on an unequal playing field in their careers. Males admit to not prioritizing their families–and don’t exactly seem bothered by that. As a result, we have gap. We have a gap between work and our families–drawn across gender lines. It was mentioned that we need to get men to see that work-life balance is an everyone-issue, but it’s more than that, we need to actually promote a work-life balance.
Instead, we have a work system where, with a few exceptions, work is expected to come first. The promotion of work-life balance in many organizations is simply a platitude–a byline in an HR policy. In the end, we’re expected to do our jobs often at the expense of our lives. Telecommuting isn’t expanding, it’s shrinking. Flexible schedules aren’t used by the great majority of American workers, or even offered by the majority of American work organizations.
The parent who chooses to telecommute is looked at unfavorably by co-workers as being “privileged” when the solution is to let the non-parent worker also exercise flexible schedules and telecommuting. Supervisors and coworkers are upset at the parent who takes off 12 weeks (unpaid) to take care of a new child.
We can promote work-life balance all we want, but until we choose to take action, work-life will simply continue to be work, then life.