In theory, flextime seems like an everyone-wins proposition. But one person’s work-life balance can be another’s work-life overload. Someone, after all, has to make that meeting or hit that deadline.
As a result, many Americans who work for companies that embrace flexible hours are confronting a sort of office class warfare. Some employees have come to expect that the demands of their children, in particular, will be accommodated — and not all of their colleagues are happy about it.
These tensions are hardly new. But at a time when many Americans are struggling to find or keep jobs — and when many of us are being asked to do more with less — the issue has come to the fore.
In a survey of more than 600 employees about work-life balance and flexibility conducted in March 2011, only 52 percent of respondents said that they talked to their colleagues about changes in how, when and where they worked. In other words, many co-workers are left to scramble because a colleague neglected to say that he was leaving early, working from home that day or taking every Friday in August off.
Some employees don’t mind filling in for their colleagues with children — in fact, they see it as paying it forward and advancing the feminist mission to “have it all.”
It’s not just the moms who are juggling.
Who, if anyone, has the work-life balance higher ground: The mother with three children, the son taking care of elderly parents, or the 20-something who is learning Mandarin once a week? And should the reasons even matter and be brought to the table in the first place?
But even well-designed policies cannot always accommodate the reality that many industries are deadline-driven or not particularly conducive to balance.Deborah Epstein Henry, founder of Flex-Time Lawyers, has found that colleague resentment is very common. “It’s the reason that a lot of work-life balance programs fail,” says Ms. Henry, whose firm, based in Ardmore, Pa., advises law firms and other organizations on flexibility policies. “In an ideal world, no one else is saddled with more work if their colleague works a reduced schedule.”
However, reality often strays far from the ideal.