Workplace Flexibility Is a Canary in a Coal Mine

The ideal worker norm: It's that thing you resent but feel powerless against. It's the employer's belief that an employee should and will prioritize work over family and personal life every time, until retirement. It's also a strong indicator that this job may not be a good fit for you.

Sociologists at the University of Michigan just released a study looking into work-life balance and how it shapes beliefs about work. Many thought that trying to achieve that balance would stunt their careers and prevent them from getting ahead; a full 40 percent believed that asking for time off would harm their prospects. Less workplace flexibility leads to lower work satisfaction, more spillover from work into personal life, and a stronger likelihood of intending to leave the job.

Even if you're not directly affected by such demands, the researchers found that knowing some co-workers felt penned in by the ideal worker norm could affect your job satisfaction too. Workplace flexibility is consistently ranked as a top priority for job-hunters and employees both, especially in an era when we often fight our own instinct to work 24-hour days. In a recent survey, the United States ranked only 30th out of 38 countries in work-life balance. It's all we want from the workplace of the future too.

"It's not enough for [companies] to have work-life policies on the books," says the Michigan sociologists' press release. "They need to promote a culture where workers feel like they can use those policies without their careers being penalized." Sounds like a pretty good plan.