Response to “A Toxic Work World” Op Ed in The New York Times

Patrick Hyland, Ph.D.

Sirota Research and Development

In her op-ed piece (A Toxic Work World, September 18), Anne-Marie Slaughter paints a disturbing picture of today’s work environment, with employees putting in grueling 12 to 16 hour days that leave them anxious, exhausted, and forced to make tradeoffs between work and family.

How prevalent are the conditions that Slaughter describes?  Is she depicting worst case scenarios experienced by relatively few employees working in particularly toxic organizations?  Or is this the new normal?  Based on our research, it looks like the latter.

Each year we survey over a million employees working in small, medium, and large organizations around the world.  We ask about a variety of topics, including employee attitudes about their leaders, their colleagues, their job, and their motivation.  When we look at employee perceptions of work-life balance and stress, some dismaying trends emerge:

  • Over the past five years, the percentage of employees who are satisfied with their work-life balance has declined from 77% in 2010 to 66% in 2014.
  • Striking the right balance is a challenge for women, especially those in senior management roles.  Only 55% of female leaders in our normative database are satisfied with their work-life balance, compared to 63% of male leaders.
  • Work-based stress levels seem to increase with age.  63% of employees in their 20s said the pressures they face at work are manageable, and 72% said they can detach from work after hours.  For employees in their 50s, only 55% said work pressures are manageable, and only 63% said they can detach from work.

So what should leaders do to create the caring work environment that Slaughter calls for?  Getting a good read on employee stress levels is a good place to start.  Implementing flexible work arrangements like teleworking is a good place to end up.  We’ve found that employees who telework even one day a week are significantly more satisfied with their work-life balance than their office-bound peers.

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