Is work/life balance a male issue too?
There is no doubt that women struggle the most with work/life balance issues. But this is becoming a growing issue for men too. The Pew Research Center found that since 1965, men have tripled the time they spend with children. In the last decade, the number of stay at home dads has doubled. With the recent economic downturn, more middle-aged men have lost their jobs than ever before. The net result—many of these men are at home while their wives work. It’s a changing world.
Don’t get me wrong. In my opinion, working women have the lion’s share of this challenge. According to a 2011 US Dept. of Labor study, women do 2 hours more a day of housework and family care than men. When the differences are added up over the course of a year, women do 18 more days of homework than men! But men are slowly, but surely doing more at home.
A 2010 study by a work research group, WorldatWork, found that both working men and women are equally concerned about finding time to spend with family. Both genders want greater family friendly flextime choices at work, time off on short notice to deal with family emergencies and needs, and appreciate health and wellness programs offered at work. At the same time, to no one’s surprise, men are working more hours than women.
Unsurprisingly, business leaders have mixed feelings about these issues. On the one hand, they express the attitude that work/life balance is important, but on the other hand they are concerned about the cost of these programs. And they are worried that it will be harder to get the work done. Many employees are worried that they will be passed over for promotions or be given less valued work if they take advantage of these programs.
I am glad that many workplaces, including my company, The Everett Clinic, are incentivizing healthier habits. Departmental exercise competition, health fairs, reduced contributions for healthcare based on participating in wellness programs, are all steps in the right direction. But they still don’t add an extra hour to the day.
The economic downturn of the last five years has also had a negative impact on work/life balance. Companies are doing more with less, which improves corporate profits by increasing demands on the staff who are still working. And, it adds a measure of fear in employees. If they do participate in family friendly flextime programs or leave early, maybe they will be the next to be laid off.
Even in my department, we are considering adding more Saturday hours for patients. It is hard for our patients to take time off from work to come to appointments, so they want weekend and evening hours. But what about our employees with young children or older adults to care for—won’t this be bad for their work/life balance? At the end of the day, business needs are going to trump family needs, especially in the current business environment.
Men are doing more around the house and taking on more responsibility for family care. This relieves some of the burden for their working wives. But as they do, they are going to experience the same challenges—the demands of work and the demands of home. They will ponder too—How can I do it all?
- You can’t. At least not at the same time. Sometimes, we may choose to sacrifice time with family to fulfill work responsibilities. But then other times, we may pass up that attractive assignment to take care of an aging family member. Doing both is not always possible.
- Cooperate. Two people working together can do much more than one two people working alone. Greater cooperation at home (and at work) will result in better balance. Easier said than done.
What has helped you achieve better work/life balance?