We Americans (those of us who are lucky enough to have jobs, that is) work a lot. According to the international Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), people in the United States work 1778 hours per year — higher than the OECD average among 34 countries. The question of whether our lives have become too work-oriented, at the expense of personal growth and domestic well-being, looms large for many of us.
This issue has, for better or worse, become defined by what I will refer to as The Yahoo Telecommuting Debacle: Earlier this year, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer (who last year returned to work just two weeks after having a baby) announced that starting on June 1, telecommuting would no longer be an option for her company's employees. Critics said she was valuing corporate advancement over worker happiness. Mayer, wrote New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, "seems oblivious to the fact that for many of her less-privileged sisters with young children, telecommuting is a lifeline to a manageable life."
But "work-life balance" is about so much more than working from home; it's about so much more than women "having it all" — or not.
A recent Pew Research Center report revealed that 70 percent of working mothers with children (and 48 percent of working fathers) say having a flexible schedule is extremely important to them. In the same study, more than half of working parents described balancing the responsibilities of their job with the responsibilities of their family as "very or somewhat difficult." Between 35 and 40 percent of working mothers and fathers report "always" feeling rushed. Unsurprisingly, work-life balance decisions are influenced by one primary factor (and it's not "what's best for the family"): money. Whereas about one-third of women who say they "live comfortably" state that working full-time is their ideal situation, almost half of those who "don't even have enough to meet basic expenses" describe full-time employment as their ideal. Sounds like the "ideal" shifts dramatically depending on economic security.
And of course these issues don't apply just to women, or parents, or partnered people. As writer Kate Bolick noted in The Atlantic last year: "Single people deserve work-life balance too." Childless employees need time to work out, travel, socialize, and simply expand their horizons outside of the office. Men deserve the peace of mind that is the holy grail of the quest for work-life balance. In a world where the professional and the personal and the political all start to meld together, considering where those boundaries begin and end is of crucial importance for everyone.
With all this in mind, I reached out to more than 25 of Maine's largest private- and public-sector employers to ask about their approach to the vaguely defined concept of work-life balance.
The results obviously speak for themselves; it's safe to assume that corporations that pay less attention to this issue are also less interested in sharing their policies and perspectives. Among those employers who did not respond to multiple requests for comment (or flat-out declined to participate in an interview on the subject): Hannaford, Walmart, Marden's, Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Group, Idexx, Circle K, and Bath Iron Works. Some of those were surprising (such as Hannaford, the state's largest private employer — given their community-minded philosophy, I expected them to get back to me) and others were not (considering how many Walmart employees nationwide are also on public assistance, it's safe to say that this corporation cares more about the bottom line than benefits). I would have liked to have heard from employers in the manufacturing and home health care industries.