Choice of the professional platter

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Work-life balance is no longer a woman’s problem alone. The increasingly automated and brutal world of competition, finds both men and women struggling to find a balance between their professional and family commitments. But, are organisations indifferent to the needs of their workers?

Women still can’t have it all, said Anne-Marie Slaughter, president of the New America Foundation and the Bert G. Kerstetter ’66 University professor of politics and international affairs, at Princeton University, and who was previously the director of policy planning for the US State Department, in an interview with The Atlantic magazine. Echoing her thoughts was Indra Nooyi, president, PepsiCo. In an interview with David Bradley, owner of The Atlantic, Nooyi said that although women pretend they have it all, the reality is actually the opposite.

This elicited tremendous controversy across the globe as feminists went up in arms and women professionals gasped in disbelief at the statement from one of the most powerful women in the world.

So, let us not fool ourselves to believe that women can do 100 per cent justice to both their families and their careers. Women really can’t have it all. But can men?

Surprised? A redundant question, is it? Men really do have it all, as they choose—A successful career and a rocking family life. The reality, however, is actually quite different today. A recent research by Ernst & Young (EY) shows that one third of full-time employees are finding it difficult to manage work–life balance, especially in the last five years. Surprisingly, it is the men, rather than the women, who are more willing to make sacrifices to better manage work and family.

According to the research, 54 per cent full-time workers are willing to sacrifice career growth opportunities to attain work–life balance. Of these, men are more willing to take a pay cut, pass up a promotion or move to a different location in order to spend more time with family.

Millennials too, especially in the US, are pretty geared to compromise on their careers or go for job flexibility at the cost of a pay cut, in order to be close to their families.

However, at the same time, one out of every 10 workers in the US (and one amongst every six millennials), has faced the negative consequences of working flexibly. Nearly two-thirds of American full-time employees, who are parents, did not take paid parental leave in the US. Over three quarters of women said their spouses or partners are not eligible for paid parental leave.

But, if a company does offer that kind of flexibility and paid parental leave, millennials would not quit. In fact, they would even recommend such companies to others.

The millennial age group is one when most professionals are grappling with increasing job responsibilities and at the same time raising young children. With both parents working, it becomes increasingly difficult to leave behind small children or attend to their requirements, which range from school activities, classes or PTA meetings.

While workers, in their late 30s or 40s, especially women, often choose to take a mid-career break when family commitments are at their peak, such as dealing with the needs of adolescent children, or ageing parents, the millennial generation is right in the centre of, “a perfect storm”. They are working more hours and having children too. But, can one of the two partners afford to make compromises at work or take a break without facing a career backlash?

Today, half of the full-time women workers in the US of all generations, including the millennials, have taken a career break, and almost 22 per cent men have, too.

The online EY Global Generations research survey of 9,700 full-time workers from companies of varying sizes, conducted across the US, Germany, Japan, China, Mexico, Brazil, India and the UK, found that there are five top reasons why full-time workers quit. These are: minimal wage growth, lack of opportunity to advance, excessive overtime hours, a work environment that does not encourage teamwork and a boss that does not allow one to work flexibly. The other reasons included what is called the ‘flexibility stigma’ and overnight travel. But, millennials who are young parents, cited the lack of opportunity for growth as they continue to nurture career ambitions despite having children.

If they continued to pursue their professional ambitions, the challenges that the economy will pose for the workers will be immense and have serious repercussions on both their professional as well as personal lives.

As per the research, while one in five employees encouraged their partners to return to work, and not reduce their working hours, one in six full-time workers got divorced or separated and 23 per cent of workers either did not wish to have more children, or delayed having more kids.

One in five full-time workers was forced to discontinue or delay higher education of their children or were unable to fully pay for their children’s education.

Upward mobility is great for one’s self esteem. However, in today’s business world, it comes at quite a high price. It is indeed becoming increasingly difficult for professionals, across generations, to make a choice between career and family life because invariably one comes at the cost of the other.

There is really no perfect situation and the choice offered is a tough one. As Slaughter said in ‘The myth of work-life balance’, in The Atlantic, last year, “Although there is a new, flexible work–life framework that already exists in a growing number of organisations, keeping in mind the radical transformation that has taken place at work and in our lives over the past two decades, we do need a new model that moves beyond the outdated limits of ‘balance’ and ‘having it all’.”

While the debate revolved primarily around working women, it can well be extended to include men today, as the problems of workers across not just generations but genders as well, are common. So, let us hope that more organisations adopt a flexible work environment in the near future.

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