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You Actually Can't Use Work To Hide From Your Life

Posted: 12/07/11 01:58 PM ET

A misunderstanding with a friend, a lurking sense that your long-term relationship isn't as long term as you'd hoped, family tension: If you've ever thought of work as a refuge from the things that aren't going so well in your personal life, you may be in denial, new research suggests.

A European study of over 10,000 people in 30 countries recently published in the British Journal of Management found that while someone with a happy home life is more likely to be satisfied at work, it doesn't work the other way around. Professor Yannis Georgellis from Kingston University in London, a researcher from the study, said in a press release, "Although there is a clear 'spillover' effect from one area of life to the other, there is no evidence that people who are very unhappy at home will feel 'compensated' by work in any way." For women, happiness is even less dependent on work, the study found. According to Georgellis,

The study finds that being happy at work becomes less important to women's overall well-being when they have pre-school children, possibly because this changes working mothers' priorities.

Georgellis studied the European population, but census data from 2010 shows that U.S. women are more likely to reduce their hours or leave a position as they start their family suggests that women here also choose family over work when their children are young.

This research could, of course, be interpreted to mean that women don't really value their jobs, aren't as driven as men, etc. Or we could read it as evidence that women, in prioritizing child-rearing -- in other words, their personal lives -- identified that no matter how much you care about your job, work isn't the ultimate source of fulfillment, no matter how successful or powerful you are, not even for men, who were also included in Georgellis' study.

Another new study seems to back up Georgellis' findings. University of Minnesota sociology professors Erin Kelly and Phyllis Moen found that flexible work policies allowing employees to schedule their work to fit their needs left the employees less stressed, more in control of their lives, and were generally healthier. In other words, male or female, the more you are able to schedule work around your life, rather than vice versa, the happier you are.

The study, which appears in the December issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, tested a policy suggested by Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE), an organization that argues employers should focus on results and not time sheets. According to a press release from The American Sociological Association, the researchers followed 608 employees before and after the implementation of flexible policies at their office. Employees participating in flexibility programs reported being feeling less concerned about work-family conflict. They also said they got an average of almost an extra hour of sleep each work night, were less likely to feel pressured to work when sick and were more likely to seek medical attention when they needed it. "This has important policy implications, suggesting that initiatives creating broad access to time flexibility encourage employees to take better care of themselves," Moen said.

Some companies have recognized that flexible schedules would allow them to keep smart, talented women, which would ultimately benefit their bottom line. Former Ernst & Young Chairman Phil Laskawy, when explaining his company's decision to institute flexible policies like allowing employees to work 60 hour weeks during peak periods but 30 hours the rest of the year, told the New York Times: "Our top performers at the entry level were women, but we weren't keeping them. It seemed like an enormous mistake."

In January Sharon Allen, Chairman of Deloitte, an accounting firm, told the Times that the company's flexible work policies have saved it over $45 million a year by lowering employee turnover. As HuffPost 50 editor Laura Rowley put it last week, "The company that can create jobs where a woman can work from 8:30 to 2:30 is going to win and win really big."

But maybe these studies are also an occasion to admit, even in our workaholic culture, even when jobs are scarce, that it's possible to be enormously successful at work -- and derive a lot of pride from that -- but not have work be the most important thing in your life.

POLL:

Which best describes your priorities?

My job is my biggest source of satisfaction.

My personal life my biggest source of satisfaction.

What is your age?

19-24

25-29

30-35

36-40

41-45

46+

Are you male or female?

Female

Male

 

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