Conversations About Men and Work-Life at 4th Annual Retreat
In February, an intimate group of work-life leaders came together in New Orleans for the 4th annual Work-Life Retreat to discuss groundbreaking research on men and work-life conducted by WFD Consulting and sponsored by WorldatWork’s Alliance for Work-Life Progress. Armed with this research, retreat attendees brainstormed the stereotypes and barriers that prevent men from using work-life options and prevent leaders from supporting their employees’ use of work-life options.
The Global Men’s Study, conducted in late 2010 in Brazil, China, India, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States, found four main themes:
Identity: Are men more work-identified than women? Are women more family-identified than men?
Managing Challenges: What are the top work-life challenges faced by men, and what solutions do they utilize most frequently?
Organizational Culture: Do employees believe that they are supported in their utilization of work-life solutions?
Leadership Attitudes: Has the business case for work-life been made to company leaders? What are the attitudes of leaders toward employees who are committed to their personal/family lives?
Four teams formed to dive deeper into these four main themes to determine which key findings have the greatest implications for solutions.
Especially in emerging countries, the attitudes from management about the “ideal” worker still spotlight someone whose life is dominated by work over anything else. To work with the problems of a work-identified culture, work-life leaders discussed the need to shift the focus to a dual-centric identity to support work-life for men and women.
“I was reflecting on all the changes that have taken place from the 1970s through now, and the leaders in work-life really pushed these things for families and women. Now we see that it’s time to focus on men because it really is a whole family issue,” said Steve Wing, President of Corporate Voices for Working Families.
The work-life challenges that men experience were identified mostly as a reluctance to talk about the challenges. In a different study on new dads, there was less prevalence of formal flexible work arrangements, but the need for flexibility was still there. In areas where more aggressive family leave policies are in place, such as international companies, solutions were more easily addressed. Wing said holding up examples of companies that have been successful implementing work-life for men will help other employees and employers step forward to advance work-life for men.
Usually, leaders accept work-life initiatives better after they’ve experienced some form of work-life conflict themselves. The older generation of leaders aren’t so experienced in this, but younger men are. To drive culture change, the attendees discussed having a champion in a leader who has experienced work-life conflict, a younger man who accepts work-life as more of a given, or more grassroots efforts for champions from men’s groups or even legislative advocates.
To help employees understand the organizational culture and that they are supported in their use of work-life programs, they need to understand and see a model for what a good employee is. Mentoring is a potential solution, as is any idea that empowers men to utilize programs in the same way that women have.
Finally, to change attitudes from leaders and managers requires a dialogue between leaders and rank-and-file employees. In general, leaders are recognizing a move away from command-and-control styles to allowing more individual accountability. Wing said this takes courage to believe that the work will still get done, and courage from employees to use work-life benefits without fear of negative repercussions. As this attitude shift continues, and as new leaders emerge, more work-life and training tools will develop to help managers learn what works best for individuals.
“Loyalty, productivity, retention. It is hard to quantify. Not everyone always agrees on what those numbers are,” Wing said. “But no one says that it doesn’t affect the bottom line. If you can show that, the companies will be more responsive.”