Helping employees balance work / life conflicts

The typical employee in the 1960s or 1970s showed up at the workplace Monday through Friday and did his or her job in 8 or 9 hour chunks of time. The workplace and hours were clearly specified. That’s no longer true for a large segment of today’s workforce. Employees are increasingly complaining that the line between work and non-work time has become blurred, creating personal conflicts and stress.

A number of forces have contributed to blurring the lines between employees’ work life and personal life. First, the creation of global organizations means their world never sleeps. At any time and on any day, for instance, thousands of General Electric employees are working somewhere. The need to consult with colleagues or customers 8 or 10 time zones away means that many employees of global firms are “on call” 24 hours a day.

Second, communication technology allows employees to do their work at home, in their cars, or on the beach in Tahiti. This lets many people in technical and professional jobs do their work any time and from any place. Third, organizations are asking employees to put in longer hours. For instance, in the recent past, the average working hours have increased. There is an unwritten extension of office hours by 3 to 4 hours every day, in most organizations.

Finally, fewer families have only a single breadwinner. Today’s married employee is typically part of a dual-career couple. This makes it increasingly for married employees to find the time to fulfill commitments to home, spouse, children, parents, and friends.

Employees are increasingly recognizing that work is squeezing out personal lives, and they’re not happy about it. For example, recent studies suggest that employees want jobs that give them flexibility in their work schedules so they can better manage work / life conflicts.

In fact, evidence indicates that balancing work and life demands now surpasses job security as an employee priority. In addition, the next generation of employees is likely to show similar concerns. A majority of college and university students say that attaining a balance between personal life and work is a primary career goal. They want “a life” as well as job. Organizations that don’t help their people achieve work / life balance will find it increasingly hard to attract and retain the most capable and motivated employees.

The field of OB offers a number of suggestions to guide managers in designing workplaces and jobs that can help employees deal with work / life conflicts.

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