How ‘Flexibility Bias’ Can Hinder the Pursuit of Work-Life Balance

How ‘Flexibility Bias’ Can Hinder the Pursuit of Work-Life Balance

As HR leaders know all too well, it’s one thing to give employees a benefit, and quite another to actually get them to use it. This problem often arises around paid leave and flexibility: An organization will offer ample paid vacation, parental leave, and flexible work options, only to find that employees don’t take full advantage of these options, often because their managers, their peers, or the company culture discourages them. Even if the organization’s policy is generous, employees may fear that using their leave entitlement or working flexibly will make them look less dedicated, cause them to miss out on prestigious assignments, or otherwise hold them back in their careers.

Sociologists Lindsey Trimble O’Connor and Erin Cech examined this phenomenon, which they call “flexibility bias,” in two new studies, the findings of which they detailed at the Harvard Business Review last week:

We show that when employees see workplace flexibility bias in their organizations, they are less happy professionally and are more likely to say they will quit their jobs in the near future. Importantly, the effects of this bias aren’t limited to working mothers. Even men who don’t have kids and who have never taken family leave or worked flexibly are harmed when they see flexibility bias in their workplaces.

We also find that perceiving bias against people who work flexibly not only impacts work attitudes but also follows employees home. It increases their experiences with work-life spillover, minor health problems, and depressive symptoms, as well as leads to more absenteeism at work and worse self-rated health and sleep. These effects occur for working moms, dads, and childless women and men alike. The effect holds across age groups and racial and ethnic categories as well. …

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Survey: Most UK Workers Aren’t Using Their Full Leave Benefit

Survey: Most UK Workers Aren’t Using Their Full Leave Benefit

A recent survey by Glassdoor finds that very few employees in the UK are using all of their paid leave entitlement, while 40 percent of them are using less than half of it, Personnel Today’s Adam McCulloch observes:

The average figure of holiday taken by UK employees was 62%, while 91-100% of holiday entitlement was taken by 43%, the study found. A remarkable 13% reported only taking 20% of their allowance. The online survey carried out in April garnered responses from 2,000 full and part-time employed adults and also gauged the amount of work people said they did while taking time off. The results revealed that 23% of those on holiday regularly checked emails and 15% continued doing some work out of fear of being behind on their return and of missing targets.

Young workers were the least likely to take their full holiday entitlement, with only 35% of 18-24 year olds and 40% of 25-34 year olds taking all of their allowance. Half of employees (50%) said they could completely relax on holiday and that there was no expectation from their employers that they should be contactable. However, 20% reported that they were expected to be reachable and available to carry out some work if needed.

The underuse of vacation time may be a factor in the high levels of overwork and overload UK employees report, which cause stress and contribute to mental and physical health problems. Nearly one third of workers said in the latest edition of the CIPD’s UK Working Lives report that they suffered to some extent from “unmanageable” workloads, while 22 percent said they often felt “under excessive pressure,” another 22 percent said they felt “exhausted,” and 11 percent reported feeling “miserable” at work.

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How Can We Design Flexibility to Meet Different Employees’ Work-Life Balance Needs?

How Can We Design Flexibility to Meet Different Employees’ Work-Life Balance Needs?

In a meta-analysis of recent studies on flexible work policies, professors Ellen Ernst Kossek and Brenda A. Lautsch looked at whether these programs had consistent benefits for all types of workers: e.g., hourly or salaried, managerial or professional, and high- or low-income. Discussing their findings at the Harvard Business Review, Kossek and Lautsch register their dismay that in most of these studies, these distinctions weren’t even explored. “Despite the many studies on the topic,” they write, “it is rare for scholars to consider occupational differences across workers in the need for, and experience of, work-life flexibility.”

That’s a problem, the authors underscore, because employees in different roles and circumstances diverge significantly in terms of access to flexibility and other work-life balance programs, with varying consequences for their quality of life and work:

What exactly do we know about how kinds of work-life flexibility benefit employees in different jobs the most? First, not every employee faces the same work-life challenges, has access to the same types of flexibility, or experiences outcomes from them in the same way. For example, retail, food, and other workers in hourly jobs that pay at or close to the minimum wage often struggle to get sufficient predictable (and sometimes enough) work hours to care for their families. They would benefit from being able to control their work hours through flex time and having greater control over schedules and time off, as well as the ramping up of hours when it fits their lives. Yet these are the workers who rarely have access to control over when they work.

In addition, access to other work-life flexibility practices that affect the ability to take time off and the continuity of work, like paid sick and parental leaves, is critical to these hourly workers. It is also largely unavailable to them.

These authors’ point about how employees differ in their work-life challenges and the kinds of benefits they need resonates with something we’ve observed in our research at CEB, now Gartner, over the past several years and that is coming into ever greater focus in our ongoing work: Work-life balance is a broad category of need, for which no HR department can possibly design a one-size-fits-all solution.

Last week, we hosted Genentech’s Head of People Analytics Chase Rowbotham for a webinar. One of the projects he described was an analysis his team did to understand the effects of commute times on employees’ likelihood of leaving. Based on those findings, Genentech is rolling out a new “Working Flexibly” philosophy and toolkit, among a series of initiatives geared toward improving the employee experience. It’s intentionally a philosophy, not a policy, precisely because of this variation in what working flexibly can and should look like for different segments of the workforce. (CEB Corporate Leadership Council members who missed the webinar can watch a replay of it on our member site.)

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Qualtrics’ Experience Benefit Illustrates the Power of Innovative Rewards

Qualtrics’ Experience Benefit Illustrates the Power of Innovative Rewards

Qualtrics, a customer and employee experience management company based in Provo, Utah, introduced a new bonus scheme in January that focuses on its own employees’ experiences. The new perk, which replaced the company’s $1,000 Christmas bonus, offers employees $1,500 expressly to fund meaningful experiences for themselves and their families. SHRM’s Kathy Gurchiek takes an extensive look at this “experience bonus” and how Qualtrics employees are using it:

At Qualtrics, a full-time employee who has worked at least one year at any of its 14 offices—regardless of one’s job performance rating or review—may submit a form outlining the experience he or she has planned. Qualtrics deposits the money into the employee’s account for that purpose.

“We’re not going to judge and say ‘you should do this or that.’ … We want you to do what’s meaningful for you, and we want to empower you to do something [special],” said [Mike Maughan, head of global insights at Qualtrics], who used his bonus to visit his parents who had moved to Melbourne, Australia. Unused bonus money does not accumulate, as the company wants to encourage employees to savor life.

Qualtrics employees, 80 percent of whom are millennials, have used their bonuses in a variety of ways: diving with sharks, hiking the Great Wall of China, seeing Hamilton from the third row, or launching a charity to raise money for an orphanage in Kenya. The original idea behind the benefit, Maugham said, was to exemplify the company’s culture of wanting the best for its employees, but it has also paid off as a recruiting and retention tool.

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Morgan Stanley Offers Junior Bankers Higher Pay and Faster Promotion

Morgan Stanley Offers Junior Bankers Higher Pay and Faster Promotion

The investment bank Morgan Stanley recently announced a set of new policies for its junior associates, offering higher base pay and a faster track to promotion, while also underscoring its work-life balance policies, Preeti Varathan reported at Quartz last week:

According to its memo, Morgan Stanley is raising base pay for associates in investment banking and capital markets by 20% to 25%. It is also speeding up its promotion timeline for high-performing analysts—the entry-level position below associate—from three years to two. The memo also reiterated the bank’s current vacation and hours policies: two mandatory one-week vacations every year and limited staffing on Fridays and weekends.

Wall Street has long had a reputation for debilitating hours, consecutive all-nighters, and frequent weekend work. But even the most competitive firms are now grappling with a new generation’s insistence on rapid promotions and better work-life balance. “The ability to recruit, develop, and retain top talent by offering attractive career opportunities is a key priority,” the memo noted.

Indeed, at a time when the labor market is tight and employers in all industries are having to compete harder for talent, it’s unsurprising to see another large employer make investments in its most junior employees. The financial sector, however, has also been grappling for several years now with a particularly difficult employer brand problem. More than ever before, prospective employees now question whether the lucrative rewards of investment banking’s traditional high-stress, high-pay model are worth the costs to their quality of life.

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South Korea Moves to Cut Maximum Workweek

South Korea Moves to Cut Maximum Workweek

Like some other East Asian economies, South Korea has long been known for a highly demanding work culture that rewards long hours and measures employees’ commitment by how much overtime they are willing to work. The country is one of the hardest-working in the OECD, with South Koreans working an average of 2,069 hours in 2016, compared to 1,783 hours in the US and just 1,363 hours in Germany. That may start to change in the coming years thanks to a bill approved by the National Assembly’s Environment and Labor Committee last Tuesday, which cuts the maximum statutory working hours from 68 hours a week to 52, the Korea Times reported:

Slashing working hours was among the main election pledges of President Moon Jae-in, which he said will improve quality of life as well as help create jobs. However, fewer working hours means higher labor costs for businesses. According to an estimate by the Korea Economic Research Institute, businesses will pay an additional 12.1 trillion won annually to maintain current production while cutting the working hours. This includes wages paid to additional workers hired to cover the hours lost, as well as their training costs.

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German Metalworkers Win Right to 28-Hour Workweek in Union Deal

German Metalworkers Win Right to 28-Hour Workweek in Union Deal

After a series of strikes last week, the influential German union IG Metall sealed a deal with employers in which its members gained both an increase in pay and the right to a substantially shorter workweek, the Local reported on Tuesday:

Both the union and employers said in overnight statements they had reached a “tolerable compromise” with some “painful elements” covering 900,000 workers in key industrial state Baden-Wuerttemberg, which could be extended to the 3.9 million workers in the sector across the country. The key concession is the right for more senior employees to cut their working week to 28 hours for a limited period of six to 24 months.

The union had pushed for staff to have a right to more flexible working conditions around key life moments such as the birth of a child, looking after a relative or ill health — with the right to return to full-time hours afterwards. But bosses rejected unions’ demand that they continue paying full-time salaries to some of those who choose a limited period of reduced working hours. Meanwhile, employers also gained more flexibility, to increase willing workers’ weeks to 40 hours from the standard 35.

The agreement will also see the metalworkers’ pay increase by 4.3 percent, in addition to some one-off payments, in a compromise from their original demand of a 6 percent raise. Stefan Wolf, head of regional employers’ federation Südwestmetall, said that the compromise was “reasonably balanced” but said the deal would be “difficult to bear” for some firms.

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