Most people sacrifice family life for their jobs - and hate it. But ar e things about to change?

New research says that the way we work has too high a price and it must change. Roger Trapp and Barrie Clement report
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The Independent Online
THE overwhelming majority of British workers make sacrifices at home for the sake of their careers with half regretting missing their children growing up or putting work before home or family, new research says.

And a separate report for Opportunity 2000, the campaign to promote women in the workforce, shows that almost half of female senior managers have rejected promotion - or failed to apply for it - because of the pressure it would have put on their family relationships.

The larger study, covering male and female employees of various ages and levels of responsibility, also reveals personal sacrifices ranging from divorces and being absent from partners during serious illness to missing school fairs and not spending enough time on leisure or hobbies.

One in ten of the women interviewed said they had postponed or forgone having children for the sake of the job and women were twice as likely as men to have difficulties forming relationships because of their work.

With what the researchers admit were surprising response levels among men, the survey puts renewed pressure on businesses and other organisations to move to break the "long-hours culture" and introduce new ways of working, or lose the people on whom they depend for future success.

There is already growing evidence that young people at the start of their careers are not prepared to make the sorts of sacrifices that previous generations have made. A much-quoted finding of research among business graduates by the accountants Coopers and Lybrand was that they were prepared to put their personal lives before their careers, while the author Bruce Tulgan, who is an expert on the so-called Generation X, argues that employers cannot expect such employees to work in the same ways as their predecessors.

WfD, the international consultancy specialising in advising employers on these issues, conducted "the great work/life debate" with the magazine Management Today. Liz Bargh, chief executive for the United Kingdom, said: "The report sends a clear signal - our present way of working is unsustainable, the cost is too high, in human terms and in business terms. Business will have to work with employees to balance work and life for compassion and competitiveness."

As she did in her previous role as director of Opportunity 2000, Ms Bargh stresses that there is a "business case", rather than just a moral reason for change.

The survey of 5,500 people finds that 46 per cent of workers find it hard to meet both their personal and work commitments, with women suffering most - 61 per cent of them say they have less and less time for themselves. One in three women would take a pay cut in order to gain more time for family life.

For most people, personal life comes before their career, with only 28 per cent getting most satisfaction from work.

Among managers, 67 per cent say they are expected to ask more and more of their staff and 34.5 per cent feel they often push them too hard. And that pressure is taking its toll on organisations - with 32.4 per cent of respondents saying that work/life pressure is a prime cause of staff turnover. The figure is more than 40 per cent for public-sector and larger organisations.

And, while only 28.1 per cent of senior managers and directors see workload as a growing factor in staff turnover, 40.5 per cent of middle managers do.

Top of employees' wish list of things that could make a difference is working fewer hours. This is followed by changing the company culture, working flexible hours, reducing or avoiding commuting, working from home, changing jobs or relocating, getting more staff, earning more, retiring and reducing stress.

The smaller survey for Opportunity 2000, prepared by Ashridge Management College, covered 176 managers representing an equal number of men and women.

Both men and women said that the difficulty of balancing home and work was the biggest problem when accepting a senior appointment. Some 79 per cent of women felt it was the biggest drawback and 67 per cent of men did so.

However, while one in ten women listed long hours as a reason for rejecting promotion, not one man indicated it was an important issue. And in high- flying couples, more than 43 per cent of women had either rejected promotion or failed to apply for it for fear of damaging their "dual career" relationships, while only 6 per cent of their male partners had suffered from the same sensitivities.

But Ann Chant, director of Opportunity 2000, believes that attitudes are changing. She points out that the very youngest men are as concerned as their partners that promotion might sour their love lives.

t The WfD report is available priced pounds 37: 0181 324 5553.

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