Work-Life Balance

When Work-Life Balance Programs Are Poorly Managed, 'Office Class Warfare’ Emerges

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Work-life balance programs in law firms and corporations can offer flexibility for parents and others who have responsibilities and interests outside the office.

But there is a downside when poorly managed programs create workload inequities among employees, the New York Times reports. “Many Americans who work for companies that embrace flexible hours are confronting a sort of office class warfare,” the story says. “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.”

Megan, a 31-year-old associate at a large law firm in Washington, told of her frustration when she ended up overseeing a case because of a senior lawyer’s part-time schedule. “She swooped in at the last minute and took all the credit,” Megan told the Times. Megan did appreciate gaining experience, but she wishes the senior lawyer had been more forthcoming. “If the woman I was working with had said to me, ‘I’m going to be checked out, can you run everything?’ I would have been fine with that,” Megan said.

Deborah Epstein Henry, founder of Flex-Time Lawyers, tells the Times that resentment among those forced to pick up the slack is common. “It’s the reason that a lot of work-life balance programs fail,” Henry says. “In an ideal world, no one else is saddled with more work if their colleague works a reduced schedule.” To make that happen, firms should assign one person to keep track of flex-time schedules and oversee staffing, she said.

The Times identifies a second issue: “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?”

The answer is no, according to Cali Williams Yost, chief executive of Flex + Strategy Group/Work + Life Fit. She tells the Times her advice is “to remove the why.”

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