Understanding Today’s Career Work-Life Balance Needs

Employees and hiring managers were surveyed to better understand today’s workforce and the phenomenon of career sequencing and workplace flexibility.  There has been an increase in professionals wanting to take a ‘detour’ from their career path for personal reasons (caring for elderly parent, etc) or even for entrepreneurial reasons.  I’ve shared some of the key findings with you. 

According to the study Changing the Career Ladder: Paving Flexible Pathways for Today’s Talent, professionals want to step off their career paths somewhere along the way for any variety of reasons, such as to care for a spouse or an elderly parent, to raise children, or to nourish an entrepreneurial spirit.

Employees and hiring managers were surveyed to better understand today’s workforce and the phenomenons of career sequencing and workplace flexibility. The study attempts to determine how corporations are going to find talent and foster flexibility in the changing workplace.

Key findings of the study included:

“People who consider taking career breaks and who want more flexibility aren’t an aberration but instead reflect a broader overall shift in the traditional model of workday arrangements and a linear career path—particularly among Gen Xers as compared to Baby Boomers.

  • 63% of respondents said they would consider leaving the workplace for a period of time—a majority of both men (58%) and women (68%).
  • Younger workers (26–41 years old) are the most likely to say they would consider taking a career break (70%).
  • The primary reasons for desiring to leave the workforce for a period of time were parenthood (63%), an avocation/life outside of work (43%), stress/burnout (37%), and entrepreneurship (35%).

Employees look to a host of options to break the traditional workday arrangement and career path model. When asked how they would improve their current work situation, the most cited requests included:

  • 28% of respondents want more day-to-day informal flexibility, and younger employees (26–41 years old) are most likely to want this flexibility (32%).
  • 20% would like the flexibility to telecommute, and younger employees (26–41 years old) are most likely to want this flexibility (25%).
  • 17% suggest that project-based consulting work would improve their current work situation.
  • For 14%, a reduced schedule would improve their current work situation.

Men are very interested in career breaks but for different reasons than women.

  • While women ranked parenthood as the top reason they would leave the workforce (70%), for men avocation or life outside of work topped the list at 59%.

Men mistakenly believe their rationale for wanting a career break is not as “accepted” as women’s.

  • While men are almost as interested in taking a break as women (59% versus 70%), they are hesitant because they believe women are more likely to be granted a break from the workplace.
  • 75% of men said that employers are more likely to say “yes” to a woman requesting a leave of absence from work.
  • In addition, 85% of men said that employers are more likely to say “yes” to a person with children requesting a leave of absence from work.

In reality, company hiring managers don’t favor a particular reason for a career break, as people think they do.

  • While a majority of individuals felt companies were more understanding of women (63%) and people with children (77%) taking career breaks, less than half of hiring managers said they were more understanding of women (41%) and or more understanding of those with children (44%).

Though flexibility has come a long way in workforce recruitment strategies, official corporate flexibility strategy still has a way to go if workplaces are going to benefit from the talent of an expanded talent pool.

  • Only 52% of hiring managers view flexibility as a strategy for managing workflow and talent management challenges.

Understanding of and buy-in to flexibility and expanded career path options need to occur at all levels—organizationally, managerially, and individually.

  • Employees are most likely to go to their supervisor (24%) to discuss a need for workplace flexibility if they are seeking to change their current work arrangement.
  • Organizations need to train frontline supervisors about expanding career path options and flexibility in order to attract and retain valuable talent.”

Corrie Martin, program manager for Tuck Executive Education’s Back in Business program, summarized the findings straightforwardly and accurately in saying: “Highly talented professionals fear being labeled obsolete if they don’t give all-or-nothing to the omnipresent, always-on workforce.”

When these attitudes are changed at all levels of the organization, work-life balance will finally be properly defined, framed, and supported.

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