Single workers ignored in work-life balance equation

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A new body of research has revealed that workplace flexibility policies designed to be family-friendly may have an intentional side-effect – single workers too, struggle with finding the time or energy to ensure their work and home lives are balanced.

The message to employers, the researchers say, is that just because some workers may live alone doesn’t mean they don’t have lives beyond the office. The Michigan State University study found workers who struggle with maintaining a work-life balance (regardless of their family circumstances) report less satisfaction with their lives and jobs and show more signs of anxiety and depression.

“People in the study repeatedly said I can take care of my job demands, but then I have no time for working out, volunteering in my community, pursuing friendships or anything else,” said Ann Marie Ryan, MSU professor of psychology and study co-author.

The focus of companies tends to be more on helping workers find “work-family” balance. The broader new concept is called “work-life,” though for many employers it remains just that – a concept, study co-author Jessica Keeney added.  

“As organisations strive to implement more inclusive HR policies, they might consider offering benefits such as flexible work arrangements to a wider audience than just parents,” Keeney said, who also works for APTMetrics, an HR consulting firm. “Simply relabeling programs from ‘work-family’ to ‘work-life’ is not enough; it may also require a shift in organisational culture.”

She gave the example of an employee who is single and without children and wants to leave work early to train for a triathlon – that employee shouldn’t have any less right to leave early than the one who wants to catch her child’s soccer game at 4pm. Yet the latter tends to be more valued than the other.  

*The research encompassed two studies of nearly 5,000 university alumni.

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