The expectation of working long hours comes with the territory in a lot of industries. The culture of some companies necessitates a high-paced, high-pressure, work-until-you-can-work-no-more lifestyle in order to get ahead – or even to stick around.
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When we think about work-life balance, it’s easy to default to imagining a working mother trying to balance the demands of home and family with her commitment to her professional growth. But, men yearn for work-life balance too. However, the methods they use to achieve this balance differ from the strategies employed by women.
Erin Reid, an assistant professor at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business recently conducted a fascinating study on the topic. She interviewed consultants at a firm, (she called it AGM -– a pseudonym). On the topic of men and work-life balance, she said:
“Work-life balance issues aren’t just women’s issues. Even in elite jobs, men are experiencing challenges at the same rate as women, but because we expect different things from men and women, men develop different strategies.”
Let’s take a closer look at the findings.
1. The pressure is on for everyone.
Reid conducted her study at a global strategy consulting firm. As is typical in the industry, consultants were expected to travel and work evenings and weekends on short notice, they were also expected to put in long hours and demonstrate an abundant and unrelenting devotion to the firm, one that supersedes other life commitments. One man said:
“I will sometimes have to get calls on Sunday nights. Sometimes, I have to do calls on Saturday mornings. So the weekend is not sacrosanct. If the client needs me, I will generally take [the call]. And you know when the client needs me to be somewhere, I just have to be there.”
After conducting interviews with around 100 people at the firm, as well as reviewing performance data and HR documents, Reid was able to draw some pretty interesting conclusions about how men and women coped with these pressures.
2. Men and women cope differently.
Reid found that women and men were equally likely to struggle with the expectations, but they handled the challenge differently. Women tended to take accommodations such as reducing their hours, therefore revealing that they weren’t always hitting the high mark expected by the firm. Men, on the other hand, found ways around the expectations, cultivating mostly local clients in order to avoid travel, or leaning on others to cover for them when they were away from the office. Thus, they were able to achieve a 50- to 60-hour work week while still being seen as ideal workers and without suffering any penalties for their lack of compliance.
3. Women’s honesty didn’t help them professionally, and the men’s tactics made it worse.
Reid found that women were far more likely to seek accommodations or ask for greater flexibility in order to help them achieve the work-life balance their personal lives demanded. Men, on the other hand, were much more apt to find ways around the system without revealing that they were falling short of expectations. As a result, women didn’t advance professionally at the same rate as their male counterparts.
So, what can we take away from this? The most immediate idea might be that either men have to stop lying about when and how they’re working, or women need to adopt the habit of fudging the facts a little on their end. Employers might also learn from this research, and come to understand that men and women experience the same pressures, and both make adjustments in order to balance their lives. It’s just that, generally, they go about it in different ways.
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