Is work-life balance just a dream?

New research shows a spike in work hours over the past 5 years, with disproportionate impact on Millennials and parents

How rare is it to achieve “work-life balance” in this day and age? Well, a design firm is selling “pods” intended for the workplace so that people can simply live at work. End of balance problem.

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source: Fast Company

In fact, an employee at Google reportedly lived at work for almost two years, using company sleeping pods, showers, a health club and a cafeteria. However, I don’t think that “just relax; surrender to the void” is an appropriate response to this issue. New research by E&Y shows that achieving work-life balance is growing increasingly difficult.

Work-life balance is harder, globally

Of managers worldwide, 46 percent are working more than 40 hours per week, and 40 percent say their work hours have increased in the past five years.

Members of younger generations are experiencing a disproportionate increase in work hours in the last five years. This is happening at the worst possible time, when many young workers are starting families and dealing with the additional stress of assuming management roles. Of millennial managers surveyed, 47 percent reported a spike in hours versus 38 percent for Generation X and 28 percent for baby boomers.

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By generation — source: E&Y

Managers who are full-time working parents (41%) have seen their hours expand more in the last five years than non-parents (37%). This is an additional stress on younger generations whose children are younger, too.

Managers who are full-time working parents (41 percent) have seen their hours expand more in the last five years than non-parents (37 percent). This is an additional stress on younger generations whose children are younger, too.

Full-time employees in Germany and Japan are the most likely to indicate that it has gotten tougher to manage the balance between work and life, according to a distribution by countries.

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By country — source: E&Y

In Germany, the United Kingdom, India and the United States, parents were most likely to have difficulty managing work-life balance.

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Parents v no-parents — source E&Y

The obvious response to this mounting stress — and what employees value very highly — is flexible work. In fact, E&Y found that after competitive pay and benefits, employees want to be able to work flexibly — to shift their hours — without putting advancement and promotion in jeopardy. And they want their bosses and colleagues to support them in that endeavor.

The most fundamental flexibility is choosing when to take breaks, and it seems that 90% or more companies allow that flexibility for some employees. Second most common is the flexibility to take time off for important family and personal needs — taking the kid to the doctor — without loss of pay, which 82 percent report being able to do. Only 67 percent say they are able to work from home occasionally, though.

However, 1 in 10 U.S. workers report negative consequences of flexible work schedules, and that figure is 1 in 6 for millennials.

There are other headwinds to work/life balance, especially here in the U.S. The U.S. is the only advanced economy without paid maternity leave. And only 14 percent of U.S. firms offer any paid paternity leave, according to the Families and Work Institute.

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 mandates a “12 weeks of unpaid, job-guaranteed leave for childbirth, adoption, foster care placement, a serious personal medical condition, or care of a child or spouse with a serious medical condition to employees who have worked at least 1,250 hours during the preceding year,” but the time taken by new fathers has declined since 2008 to only 14 percent of those eligible.

The Institute estimates that 21 percent of employers that should be offering unpaid leave under the FMLA regulations fail to offer at least 12 weeks of paid or unpaid leave for at least one type of leave.

We have a long way to go to counter the stress and aggravation caused by work/life imbalance, and it seems to be getting worse, not better, here and around the world.

This post was written as part of the Dell Insight Partners program, which provides news and analysis about the evolving world of tech. Dell sponsored this article, but the opinions are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dell’s positions or strategies.

Written by

Founder, Work Futures. Editor, GigaOm. My obsession is the ecology of work, and the anthropology of the future.

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