More Work/Life Woes?

In late June, we used this space to highlight study results implying that maybe, just maybe, employees are gaining real ground in the battle for work/life balance.

Now, not quite two months later comes research that suggests the battle might still be far from over.

The RAND Corp., Harvard Medical School and UCLA recently conducted the American Working Conditions Survey, which polled 3,066 U.S. adults. Among these respondents, roughly 25 percent say they have too little time to do their jobs, with this complaint being most common among white-collar workers.

Given this finding, it’s not surprising that many employees feel that the “intensity of work frequently spills over into their personal lives,” according to RAND. Just over 50 percent of those surveyed report feeling this way, saying that they perform at least “some work” in their free time in order to meet workplace demands.

RAND notes that many workers say they must sometimes adjust their personal lives to take care of job-related responsibilities. The opposite doesn’t seem to be true, though, with 31 percent of employees finding it “somewhat” or “very” difficult to adjust their work schedules to accommodate their personal lives.

Generally, women were more likely than men to report difficulty arranging for time off during work hours to address personal or family matters, according to RAND. Younger workers feel the strain as well, with more than one-quarter reporting a poor fit between their work hours and their social and family commitments.

Not exactly encouraging figures on the work/life balance front. But the news from this research isn’t all bad. Many employees can at least count on having some kind of support system on the job, with 61 percent of women and 53 percent of men saying that they have “very good friends at work.”

Participants were also asked whether they felt their immediate supervisor trusted them, respected them, offered praise and recognition, gets people to work together, is helpful, provides useful feedback, and encourages and supports professional development. Ninety-five percent of respondents agreed with at least one of those seven statements, with 58 percent agreeing with all seven.

All in all, “the many striking and complex findings regarding American working conditions will give social scientists, policymakers, employers and workers themselves much to consider,” the authors write, noting that they “hope … these data will contribute to a constructive debate on how to improve working conditions … .”

Indeed, the numbers to emerge from this study “suggest that there is ample scope for modifying work environments,” they conclude, “to keep workers healthier, happier and more productive.”

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