The United States has underemphasized the issue of work-life boundaries as an economic and health issue and has created a work culture that is not sustainable, according to Ellen Ernst Kossek, the Basil S. Turner Professor at Purdue’s Krannert School of Management and research director of the Susan Bulkeley Butler Center for Leadership Excellence.
The work-family perspective attributes career inequality to gender differences in men’s and women’s work-family experiences. It emanates from women’s rising labor market participation and the growth of dual-career and single-parent male and female employees in organizations.
Kossek teaches students and partners on research and has been invited to give seminars to improve corporate culture issues related to work-life and gender in the workplace with businesses and governments around the world, including NASA’s Space Telescope Science Institute; the U.S. Postal Service; national employers in energy, consulting, food and health care; other Big Ten universities; Korea’s Minister of Gender Equality; and the Singapore government.
Balancing work and life has benefits for men and women, and is also crucial to company talent retention and organizational effectiveness, Kossek says. Many policies, however are still based on a model designed to support work role primacy and work–family separation. Simply adopting mentoring, bias, or work–life policies that women are expected to “fit in,” when not reinforced by a gender-inclusive climate that fits women, will likely result in adverse mechanisms, like stereotyping, and it is unlikely they will be implemented in ways that lead to career equality, she says.
Organizations can benefit from effectively managed work-life boundaries that can lead to higher employee engagement, reduced turnover, talent attraction, a more diverse workforce, and reduced health care and leave costs, as well as a reduction in absenteeism, Kossek reports.
“We say we care about families, society and health in the U.S, but our actions must now walk the talk to take action to prevent work-family-life conflict in how we lead and manage the workplace. This is a health issue, family issue, gender equality issue,” Kossek says. “Let’s support and develop the talent of employees who are striving to be effective not only at work, but also in their personal lives, and in their communities. We have really tipped the balance too far, where people feel they must place their jobs above everything else, and it is having a long-term cost to the U.S. economy and families, and societal health and well-being.”
– Linda Carrick Thomas, freelance writer