Women consider leaving for better work-life balance

Shorter work week, more time at home.

Women holding top jobs want more flexibility from their employers and are willing to leave their current jobs to find it.

That was the major finding from a recent report that looked at work-life balance issues for top executive women. The survey, commissioned by the Women’s Executive Network (WEN), found that nearly half of the Canadian female executives surveyed said they’ve considered leaving their current jobs in search of a better work-life balance.

Contrary to long-held belief, these women aren’t looking for on-site day-care facilities or other expensive perks. Rather, the option that ranked highest among the 350 female executives from Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Halton-Peel, Calgary and Vancouver was having the option of working a four-day week or working from home a few days a week. Other creative options like job sharing programs, and mentoring programs also ranked high on the wish list.

Almost one-half of the women surveyed said they have considered leaving their jobs in search of a better balance of work and life and almost one-third said they consider this option on a regular basis.

“These numbers show how serious the issue of work-life balance for female executives is,” said Angela Marzolini, vice-chair of Pollara, a research firm that conducted the survey for WEN.

The woman in the survey ranged from mothers, women without children and women with children not living at home. All categories expressed a desire for a greater work-life balance: 52 per cent of survey respondents with children living at home said they have considered leaving their jobs for more balance, so did 45 per cent of women who don’t have children at home.

“It’s not just about being a mother. It’s about other factors other than household duties. It’s about the whole idea of having a life outside work,” said Marzolini.

Mentoring also ranked high, as female executives struggle to find role models to emulate, said Marzolini.

“Women executives don’t have the opportunity for role models like men do. They’re telling us they want to hear from other high-ranking female executives, to hear how they did it.”

While the survey indicated ways employers can improve work-life balance for top-ranking women, it also revealed that most of these senior women aren’t getting that kind of flexibility from their current employers. Slightly more than one-half of the women surveyed said they have the option of working from home a few days a week. A four-day work week and paid personal days are available to only one-third of the respondents.

Only slightly more than half of the respondents could name an employer who provides great flexibility and opportunity for greater work-life balance.

“We’ve found that employers have a long way to go. These aren’t difficult, expensive things for employers to set up. It’s very simple,” said Marzolini.
Self-employed women are doing much better when it comes to juggling work and outside obligations.

According to the survey, 73 per cent of the self-employed women in the survey said their work arrangement makes it easier to accommodate the demands of work and personal and family obligations.

But workplaces have been steadily improving, she added.

“It’s an evolution. The workplace has to evolve to accommodate these changes in society into the workplace. It’s not going to happen over night.”

Some employers are doing better than others, like Scotiabank, where alternate work programs were introduced in 1995.

Offering flexible work arrangements is a part of the bank’s overarching philosophy, said Scotiabank executive vice-president of human resources Sylvia Chrominska.

“We encourage all our managers to be flexible and we recognize all employees as whole people, that they have obligations outside of work. It benefits us to ensure that our employees have harmony in their lives,” said Chrominska.

Chrominska said most employers might not understand the business case for helping employees achieve a work-life balance.

“A work-life balance benefits our entire workforce, through improved morale, greater job satisfaction and increased productivity. Our employees are very important to us and helping them lead happy lives is good business.”

That flexibility includes HR policies on job-sharing, part-time and casual work arrangements, and at least two personal obligation days. There are also guidelines for managers and employees at the departmental level, to assist them in developing flex programs tailored to individual needs.

Flexible work hours seem to be the most popular. Training is also offered online giving employees the option of taking it at home.

The Scotiabankers Association, an employee committee, also arranges for speakers to come in to speak on work-life issues. The organization is currently working with Catalyst, an organization that works to advance women in business, on mentoring programs.

More than 70 per cent of Scotiabank’s employees are women but the programs apply to all employees across the organization.

“Our lives have been so busy that we are pulled in a hundred different directions, women and men. But it seems that women still have the lion’s share of household obligations.”

Scotiabank’s EAP program is also a work-life balance tool. The programs can offer employees assistance in any personal matter, from arranging day care to finding housing for elder parents.

When Chrominska was looking for housing for her elder mother, she used the EAP to help her research and locate suitable locations.

“It really saved me a lot of time and trouble,” she said.

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