Tag Archives: work-family balance

Redesigning Work to Find Balance

Photo by @Saigon via flickr.com

Photo by @Saigon via flickr.com

In the age-old struggle to “have it all,” many of us try to squeeze extra hours out of each day in order to accommodate all of our work and family responsibilities. In the past this discussion has revolved around female workers, those who juggle full-time work, parental duties, and the domestic chores of the “second shift.” However, as the nature of work changes – becoming more precarious at the same time more demanding – this struggle for work-life balance extends to workers of all genders, ages, and social classes.

In a recent Huffington Post blog, sociologists Erin Kelly and Phyllis Moen discuss this very challenge, asserting,

The root problem, of course, isn’t that employees have family or personal commitments. The root problem is the rigid conventions of work that assume work must occur at certain times and places and that mistakenly gauge productivity by the number of hours spent at work.

Kelly and Moen research flexible working policies that can dramatically shift the very nature of work in order for this balance to be more attainable. They have found that the most effective flexible policies are those that are available to all workers, rather than perhaps mothers or specific individuals and that are collectively implemented with both employees and managers sharing control.

To move beyond decades of discussing work-life balance to meaningful change, employers need to shift from one-off accommodations. It’s time to make working efficiently, creatively, sustainably and flexibly the new norm.

These policies, such as remote work and varied hours, benefit organizations as well as employees. With these flexible policies, employees are not only more healthy and less stressed but also are more likely to work hard to keep their jobs.

Multitasking Moms Bearing the Brunt

Photo by Liz Throop via flickr.com

Multitasking is taking a bigger toll on working mothers than on working fathers, confirms a new study published in the American Sociological Review. The authors suggest the key to the difference in stress may lie in which tasks each group is juggling. As the Los Angeles Times reported, the parents all spent nearly equal hours doing paid work, but the women were spending about nine more hours each week multitasking. In addition, that maternal multitasking often involved juggling housework and childcare.

The story for dads was a bit different, the Times wrote:

Multitasking by fathers was far less likely to involve child care, the study found, and unlike moms, dads tended to report they were more focused when in charge of their kids. Researchers said this jibes with much research showing that fathers are more likely than mothers to engage with their children in “interactive activities” that are “more pleasurable than routine child care tasks.” When mothers had child care duties, they were more likely to take the kids along on errands, drive them to activities or supervise their homework, the study found.

“This helps explain why women feel more burdened than men,” lead author Shira Offer, an assistant professor of sociology at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, told Time. “It’s related not just to amount but to their experience when they multitask.”

Barbara Schneider, study co-author and a sociologist at Michigan State University in East Lansing, also told the Los Angeles Times article that the families studied were not necessarily “typical American families”:

Participants in the 500 Family Study may not be representative of American families economically, educationally or by ethnicity, Schneider acknowledged. But by focusing on some of the busiest parents, she said, the study underscores the disproportionate emotional toll that multitasking may be taking on women as they shoulder a wider range of responsibilities in the family.

The take-away from the study, according to Time‘s interview with study author Offer:

Dads, pitch in more (without being asked!). Employers and policy-makers, make that possible by understanding that it’s not only mom who should transport the kids to day care and school or stay home with a sick child.

*Photo by Liz Throop, populational.com

Paid Leave for Moms

More than half of new mothers now get paid leave from work, the U.S. Census Bureau announced last week. At face value the news might seem like cause for celebration, but some have dug deeper to expose exactly which mothers were getting paid leave.

The 22-page census report reported that a super-slim majority of women were getting paid leave: 51 percent of first-time mothers were able to take paid maternity, sick, or vacation time between 2006 and 2008. Hence the divide between which half of moms headlines highlighted:

“Majority of new moms are getting paid leave” (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

“Paid-leave benefits lagging for working moms in U.S.” (Chicago Tribune)

“Census shows half of working women don’t get paid maternity benefits; wide gaps by education” (Associated Press)

The lack of access to paid leave among women who haven’t completed college is raising concern. According to the AP article, “Lower-educated mothers are nearly four times more likely than college graduates to be denied paid maternity benefits. That’s the widest gap over the past 50 years.” (The chart above illustrates the comparison.)

New York University sociologist Kathleen Gerson, author of The Unfinished Revolution: Coming of Age in a New Era of Gender, Work, and Family, shared her opinion. “This isn’t good news for women at the bottom, and the irony is that the people with the most children are now the least likely to have the supports they need,” she told the Associated Press.

University of Minnesota sociologist Erin Kelly echoed Gerson’s sentiment when interviewed by the Star Tribune. “People who are already living paycheck to paycheck, if they don’t have access to paid leave they’re going to have to quit or they’re going to have to do something that is really unhealthy for themselves or their babies,” Kelly told the paper. “The lack of [federal] paid leave policy means in effect we are pushing those women to quit.”