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Sep 13, 2011

Think employee engagement is important? Believe that work-life issues and the flexible workplace matters?

Well, then this latest global research from the good people over at WorldatWork — titled Men and Work-Life Integrationis something you will undoubtedly be interested in.

That’s because this survey has some disturbing findings — mainly, that there is “a growing imbalance between what employers say about work-life balance and what they actually do.” But that’s just part of it.

Repercussions for participating in work-life programs

As the press release from WorldatWork put it:

Every October since 2003, WorldatWork’s Alliance for Work-Life Progress (AWLP) has led a national awareness campaign that promotes work-life effectiveness as a key contributor to productivity and success in the modern workplace. This year the campaign is calling attention to a troubling gap between leaders’ beliefs and behaviors at many organizations.”

“We set out to study men and work-life integration, but instead uncovered workplace trends showing employees suffer a variety of job repercussions for participating in work-life programs, even when their leaders insist they support the business value,” said Kathie Lingle, executive director of WorldatWork’s Alliance for Work-Life Progress, in the press release that accompanied the survey.

She added: “This conundrum can be so oppressive that some employees go underground, resorting to ‘stealth maneuvers’ for managing their personal responsibilities. The good news is that 80 percent of employers around the globe avow support for family-friendly workplaces. The bad news is they are simultaneously penalizing those who actively strive to integrate work with their lives.”

What the workplace attitudes are

According to the survey, employee respondents reported workplace repercussions that included:

  • Being overtly or subtly discouraged from using flexible work and other work-life programs;
  • Receiving unfavorable job assignments;
  • Receiving negative performance reviews;
  • Receiving negative comments from their supervisor; and,
  • Being denied a promotion.

The study found the following prevailing leadership attitudes in developed countries (specifically the U.S., United Kingdom and Germany):

  • More than half of the surveyed managers think the ideal employee is one that is available to meet business needs regardless of business hours;
  • Some 40 percent believe the most productive employees are those without a lot of personal commitments;
  • Nearly one in three think that employees who use flexible work arrangements will not advance very far in their organization;

And in case you think that those attitudes are simply something that developing nations are struggling with, think again. The survey also found that the same leadership attitudes prevailed in emerging countries (Brazil, China, and India specifically) but on a larger scale.

In other words, as backward and short-sighted as developed countries are about flexible work arrangements and other work-life policies, they are even MORE backward and short-sighted in the fast-growing economies in the developing world.

Makes you wonder if we just fell off the time machine and into the management mindset of 1961 rather than 2011.

More flexibility = lower employee turnover

“While the HR department designs and administers work-life programs, it’s the managers who have to implement it,” noted Rose Stanley, work-life practice leader for WorldatWork. “Our studies find that a culture of flexibility correlates with lower employee turnover. Specifically, those with training and experience managing employees on flexible work arrangements are much more supportive of work-life than those without that training and experience. Closing the gap between what managers believe and how they behave will make every workplace a better place to work.”

Yes, it all makes sense; flexible schedules, flexible working arrangements, and smart policies that recognize that the balance between work and the rest of your life is important, drives higher levels of employee engagement. Workers desperately want (and dare I say, need) all of that, so why are so many managers and executives so clueless about it?

It’s the $64,000 question, and probably a defining issue for organizations that are going to continue to build and grow their way out of this post-recession malaise, and those that will continue to spin their wheels.

Scottsdale, Arizona-based WorldatWork is a not-for-profit organization providing education, conferences and research focused on global HR issues including compensation, benefits, work-life and integrated total rewards to attract, motivate and retain a talented workforce. It has nearly 30,000 members in more than 100 countries. It’s Alliance for Work-Life Progress works to advances work-life as part of an integrated total rewards strategy.

The global Men and Work-Life Integration survey was conducted by WFD Consulting. They designed a questionnaire that was fielded by a global market research firm to 2,312 employees in six countries: Brazil, China, India, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States. Data were gathered in November and December 2010. Respondents worked in large (500-plus employees) for-profit organizations. The sample was balanced by gender and age.

Is this what engagement is in the 21st century?

One more thing: WorldatWork’s Alliance for Work-Life Progress stays on top of trends relating to flexible work and flexible work policies. The tenor and tone of the writing in the survey, and the press release about it, sends a loud and clear message that I read as,”hey folks, we’re as surprised by these findings as you are.”

And why not? The kind of backward and short-sighted management thinking that flows out of this survey is truly stunning, and the fact that it is exhibited so broadly around the globe in both the developed and developing world is shocking, to say the least.

Every time I think I’ve heard or seen it all when it comes to managerial short-sightedness, I get conked over the head by a surprising survey like this.

Guess all that blather we hear from companies about improving employee engagement needs to be re-thought, because these results show a mindset that is clearly clueless and out of touch about what engagement in the 21st Century truly means.