Managing a work-life balance isn’t solely a women’s issue

Maintaining a work-life balance isn't solely a women's issue

Two reports published this week show that a cultural change is needed to stop employers assuming only female workers have families or other personal concerns that could impact on their workplace performance. A report into workplace equality by the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee (BIS) has called on the UK Government to do more to tackle female underrepresentation in sectors of the economy and to dispel the myth that any type of flexible working is a ‘women’s issue,’  problematic and cannot work. In the US a study by employee assistance providers Bensinger, DuPont and Associates (BDA) into stress has found that men are more than twice as likely to receive formal disciplinary action when the stress of a personal problem impacts on their work performance.

The BIS report concluded that a cultural shift in employment practises is needed. Adrian Bailey MP, Chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, pointed out: “At the heart of the matter is the need for cultural change.  Without this we address symptoms rather than causes.”

The report recommends that employees should be entitled to ask for flexible working from the outset, not only after they have been in a job for six months.  Additionally, the Government should establish a voluntary Code of Practice to highlight best practice in the provision of quality part-time and flexible working, and must dispel the myth that any type of flexible working is problematic and cannot work.

As Bailey added: “Flexible working is not a women’s issue; it affects all employees with caring responsibilities.”

The influence of home on work does indeed seem to elicit less sympathy for men within the workplace.  In Stressed at Work: What We Can Learn by BDA, an examination of data from 24,000 EAP participants found that nearly half 47 per cent of all employees reported that stress from a personal problem negatively impacted their work performance.  This included difficulty concentrating, absenteeism and poor work quality.

But while both genders reported that difficulty concentrating was the most common symptom for nearly half of females 49.2 per cent and 44.3 per cent of males – men were twice as likely as women to be on the receiving end of formal disciplinary action as a result.

BDA recommends that specific EAP support and wellness programs should therefore focus on males and their needs in the workforce.

It recommends that: “Promotional outreach to men should be brief, factual, and focus on solutions instead of problems.  Access to EAP services and stress reduction programs should be easy and reflect the communication preferences of males, such as through email and text messaging.”

The indications are that men are conditioned not to be forthcoming on the impact difficulties at home might have on their work-time, while women are presumed to be the only gender with caring responsibilities. The recognition that men have families and a personal life too could go a long way to help promote gender equality at work.

By Sara Bean