By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)
According to a recent survey by the American Psychological Association (APA), work life fit, once and for all, can no longer be considered an issue that only concerns women. In fact, the survey suggested, it’s no longer an issue that only concerns parents either.
The study (by the APA and Harris Interactive) of 1,240 adults employed in the US found the top factor that keeps adults in their jobs isn’t pay… or benefits… or a lack of other opportunities. The top two factors that keep people in their jobs are work life fit and a sense of fulfillment. Both of these scored evenly (67 percent) as the top reason people remain with their employer.
David W. Ballard, PsyD, MBA, head of APA’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program, commented, “Americans spend a majority of their waking hours at work and, as such, they want to have harmony between their job demands and the other parts of their lives.”
He continued, “To engage the workforce and remain competitive, it’s no longer sufficient to focus solely on benefits. Today, top employers create an environment where employees feel connected to the organization and have a positive work experience that’s part of a rich, fulfilling life.”
October is National Work and Family Month, and a study like this one highlights just how important work life fit is to women, to men, to parents and non-parents. It’s an issue that affects all of us, and it’s a lot bigger than just being able to leave the office in time for dinner. It means having quality time to spend with children or parents, of course, but it also means having time outside work to participate actively in your community, to go shopping or to the doctor or to the gym, to laugh with friends, or simply to read a book.
These are the things that add variety and value to life. That’s not to say that work isn’t part of that value – the sense of fulfillment you get from a project completed or a problem solved can be powerful. And the activities that enrich one person’s life will be different than the ones that enrich someone else’s. That’s why expanding our notion of what work life fit entails and to whom it is important is the next phase of empowerment for women and men at work.
One of the surprising findings contained within the report is who lists work life fit as a key reason to stay in their job. And the answer was almost everyone.
Women were more likely than men to cite work life fit as their reason for staying with their employer – but both ranked it as the highest reason (72 percent of women compared with 62 percent of men). In fact, women and men prioritized similarly when it came to why they stayed in their jobs on the next most popular reasons as well: benefits (61 percent of women and 59 percent of men) and money (57 percent of women and 62 percent of men).
But, what may surprise you is that people without children were more likely than people with children to cite work life fit as a key reason for staying in their jobs (67 percent compared to 65 percent).
While the numbers are close, it is interesting that work life fit – an issue that has been mainly discussed around the context of motherhood for many years (and more broadly around the context of parenthood in recent times) ranks so highly in concern for people who don’t have kids at home.
As EJ Graf of the Brandeis Women’s Studies Research Center wrote in her recent piece in American Banker, work life fit and workplace flexibility creates a happier, more productive workplace for everyone. She writes:
“’Flexibility is something that all your employees need, not just working moms,’ explains Lisa Horn, Co-Director of the Society for Human Resource Management’s Workplace Flexibility Initiative. ‘Military families. Employees of different faith communities. Disabled communities. Millennials, who are very focused on their life outside work. People taking care of their aging parents and relatives. Getting the best out of all your people means giving them some level of autonomy over how, when, and where they do their best work.’”
Today managers are waking up to the fact that work life fit is something that concerns everyone. Just as companies are recognizing the importance of demographic diversity, they need to recognize the value of employing a team of well-rounded, varied adults with different priorities and experiences. Expanding our view of work life fit to apply to everyone’s lives can help acknowledge the humanity and difference in our colleagues and direct reports, and can make our own time at work more fulfilling and effective.