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Breaking the Stigma of Work-Life Balance Options: Be Inclusive!

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Work-life balance is a hot issue these days, particularly when businesses don’t offer enough time for employees to be with their families. Many organizations, however, are proactively creating flexibility programs to boost their companies’ family-friendly appeal.

It’s great to see these programs being offered, and it’s great to see employees taking advantage of these programs. The problem, though, according to Charlie Wells and Joann S. Lublin, is that not many people are participating in them. In their Wall Street Journal article Employees Like Flexible Work Programs—But Few Use Them,” Wells and Lublin say that a LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Co. Women in the Workplace study revealed that only 12 percent of employees participate “in programs such as part-time or reduced scheduling or efforts aimed at smoothing maternity-leave transitions.”

If work-life balance is so important to employees these days, and organizations are providing opportunities to enhance this balance, then why aren’t employees taking advantage of them?

Kimberly Elsbach, a professor at the University of California, Davis, says, “people don’t use job sharing or other flexible workplace benefits (because) they fear being seen as less committed to their careers.”

In other words, people want to spend more time with their families, but they also care about their careers and the companies they work for. It’s obvious that work-life balance programs are a Catch-22, especially for women. While women have gained some ground in the workplace, that progress always seems to be threatened; their work-life balance issues are different than those their male colleagues face. Somehow, for women, if they aren’t spending enough time with their children, they risk being perceived as bad mothers; but, if they take off from work to tend to a family issue or event, co-workers may grumble that they don’t care about their job.

A perfect example of this is when Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer took only two weeks of maternity leave with her first child. She’s recently announced that she’s pregnant with twins, and will also take limited time off with this pregnancy. Mayer faced criticism for barely taking any maternity leave, making her seem more committed to her career than she is to her family.

This is where inclusive leaders need to step in. The best way to change the stigma around these work-life balance programs is to address the workplace culture issues that may be creating barriers to flexibility despite programs you may have in place. According to Wells and Lublin, “businesses need to create a culture where people feel safe using flexibility programs.” A culture encouraging people to take advantage of flexible options is key. Try holding quarterly meetings to highlight the importance of work-life balance and remind employees of available options.  

Importantly, communicate clearly that any resentment or workplace harassment that employees display toward someone taking advantage of flexible options will not be tolerated. Fear of backlash from co-workers is often the reason many employees don’t use the work-life balance flexibility options available to them. As an inclusive leader, you can also set an example by using these options yourself. If your employees can their leaders taking advantage of work-life flexibility options, they will be more likely to using them themselves.

Work-life balance is important from both a personal and business standpoint. Employees who find the balance they need in their lives are more productive and, ultimately, more loyal. Build support for work-life balance into your culture for all employees. Be inclusive!

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