Employees, managers view work/life balance differently


By Neil Amato

Work/life balance means different things to different people. And the level of support offered to employee efforts to achieve work/life balance is a point of contention between workers and managers.

Two recent surveys, one in the US and another in Australia and Asia, show a gap between companies and their workers. Some want to be able to do their work outside of traditional office hours and outside the traditional office. Employers understand this, and research has shown that flexible work arrangements can increase productivity and decrease absenteeism.

But some organisations do a better job than others in setting up flexible arrangements that benefit both the employee and the workflow.

And although flexible work arrangements are on the rise due in part to changes in technology, the workers themselves are hesitant to take advantage. Some employees have the perception that working flexibly could have a negative impact on their careers, a 2016 survey report on workplace flexibility by CPA Australia showed. Thirty-one per cent thought it would inhibit their prospects for promotion, the survey showed, but 23% thought it would have a positive effect on the quality of their work.

Flexible work arrangements can be positive if they help retain workers or recruit them.

Kathy Lockhart, CPA, CGMA, vice president and controller at Noodles & Company, a US restaurant chain, said employees are more loyal when they are allowed to work a flexible schedule, something she has done on occasion herself.

“I do think that sometimes my family needs me more, and sometimes my work needs me more,” Lockhart said. “Some days, you’re going to have to leave early. Other days, you can give me your extra time. That’s all I’m looking for – your dedication to the company.”

Disconnect between management, staff

Not all requests for flexible work, a key part of work/life balance, were met, according to the CPA Australia report. And a US report from OfficeTeam, an affiliate of global staffing firm Robert Half, showed managers taking a far more positive view than workers of company support for work/life balance.

“It isn’t enough for a company to say flexible work practices are encouraged,” Alex Malley, chief executive of CPA Australia, said in the report. “People need to see it in operation, and they need to see that those accessing flexible arrangements are not having their opportunities for career progression compromised.”

The OfficeTeam report, based on a survey of 306 senior managers and 503 workers in the US, showed that 63% of managers thought companies were “very supportive” of work/life balance practices, but just 34% of workers agreed. In a similar survey 10 years ago, the gap was reversed. Employees (53%) were more likely than managers (45%) to say that a company was very supportive of work/life balance efforts.

The work/life balance benefits that employees value most, according to OfficeTeam, are:

  • Flexible work schedules, 44%
  • Generous vacation time or sabbaticals, 33%
  • Telecommuting or work-from-home options, 12%
  • Health and wellness tools or programmes, 8%
  • On-site services such as daycare, food, or dry cleaning, 2%
  • Paid parental leave, 1%

A 2015 survey by Robert Half showed a disconnect in the types of benefits employees wanted versus what CFOs thought employees wanted. More time off was the perk employees valued most, followed by remote work and a more flexible schedule. But 39% of CFOs thought health and wellness benefits were at the top of the employee wish list; just 16% of workers ranked that benefit first.

Neil Amato (namato@aicpa.org) is a CGMA Magazine senior editor.