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When short-term business goals conflict with high-minded work-life programs, work-life loses. Profits vs. flextime; team goals vs. job sharing; when deadlines are driving dollars, it’s all hands on deck, compressed workweeks be damned. Now, a new study by Alexandra Beauregard, of the London School of Economics, argues that managers should be held just as accountable for making the most of work-life programs as they are for wringing the most from any other company asset.

In this, she’s just catching up with the recommendations we have long espoused through the Accounting MOVE Project (read the brand-new 2011 report here), which shows how the accounting profession can make more of the women who dominate its ranks. Through the Accounting MOVE Project and similar efforts, I’ve been asking employers how they reconcile the unintended but inevitable conflicts between line managers’ daily business priorities and the lofty work-life programs announced with regularity by workplace leaders.

Hey, if I was managing a team with few resources, tight deadlines and swinging for big wins, I’d clear everything out of the way to hit my financial targets, too. The underlying question, then, is: do work-life balance arrangements help or hinder team productivity? If they help, then how do managers leverage them? If they hurt, how do managers reconcile the apparent availability of the programs with their own responsibilities? And either way, how do you measure productivity to understand if the programs help teams make their goals or get in the way?

You can see why we have plenty of work. It takes a lot of interviewing to understand these dynamics.

Which is why we were relieved when folks at Clifton Gunderson, one of this year’s ten Best Accounting Firms for Women , reported that they had measured productivity for participants in their decade-old flexworking program and found that those on alternative schedules were actually more productive and effective. Clifton also told us that it’s one thing to install a sweeping work-life program and a very different thing to have a workplace culture that actively reinforces the program. The firm is currently doubling down on training its managers to use flexworking as a team productivity tool.

That’s one reason why Clifton was named to this year’s Best list. And why we think that all employers move work-life programs to the asset side of their cultural balance sheets. Make bosses show how they use work-life programs to achieve their teams' financial goals. Tie their bonuses to flexwork. And watch how fast things change.

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