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Work-Life Integration


What She Said: Work-Life Integration from the Community Survey of Women in the Workplace

The Community Survey of Women in the Workplace (CSWW) was an initiative of REACH Women’s Network and was open from September–December of 2022. Learn about the survey, its methodology, and the demographics of respondents.


A previous What She Said report touched on workplace flexibility and burnout among women in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County compared to women nationally. Overall, 83% of women responding to the Community Survey of Women in the Workplace (CSWW) reported feeling burned out at least sometimes; 47% indicated they feel burned out often or almost always. This is slightly higher than national data reported by the 2022 Women in the Workplace study from McKinsey, which found that 43% of women nationally felt burned out.


The good news is that nearly two-thirds (63%) of CSWW respondents indicated they have a healthy work-life balance. Agreement with this statement did not vary significantly by age, race, or income level.


REACH member Suzanne Danhauer, PhD, Professor and Director of Faculty Well-Being and Resilience at Wake Forest University, finds fault with the term work-life balance, saying the following:


“I think the idea of work-life balance is a myth. It implies that our personal and professional lives can be separated. In reality, we have one life, full of personal and professional pieces that influence each other constantly. The term work-life integration is more reflective of the interaction between the various parts of our lives.”


The concept of work-life balance began in the Industrial Revolution, when workers averaged 100 hours per work week. In the 1980s, work-life balance became a battle cry for the Women’s Liberation Movement, which advocated for flexible schedules and maternity leave for women. Though work-life balance certainly also applies to men, Forbes points out:


"Women are often adulated for wearing many hats—working full-time jobs while managing their homes, spouses and kids simultaneously… Research shows that working moms are more likely than dads to assume more responsibilities at home. This means that more women assume multiple roles outside of their jobs… The various aspects of their lives continue to bleed into each other as they attempt to manage them all.”

— Sheffy Kolade, CEO of Boxes and Baskets LLC (Nigeria and USA), for Forbes


The many hats that women wear — including childcare, elder care, board roles, and other volunteer work — are generally beneficial to society. Kolade points out, “Society refuses to acknowledge its complicity in overburdening women… and leaves women to fend for themselves — all while profiting off them.” When women are forced to choose between aspects of their lives, they and those around them can experience the fallout.


Burnout Gender Gap & The Motherhood Penalty

According to Gallup, women are more likely to suffer from burnout than men; in fact, the burnout gender gap has more than doubled since 2019. And Harvard Business Review points out that wellbeing at work was suffering well before the COVID-19 pandemic.


A study from Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business validated that Work and Life are more fully integrated for women than for men. This is further supported by CSWW respondents, 57% of which reported that they are responsible for most (32%) or all (25%) of household duties. 39% reported that they share responsibilities equally.


About half of CSWW respondents indicated that childcare responsibilities have had a negative impact on their ability to advance in their career. In some cases, family responsibilities have had serious consequences. Twelve percent of survey respondents indicated they had been reprimanded, penalized, or terminated from a job because of demands (real or perceived) of family responsibilities. However, an overwhelming majority — 81% — of women said they have never been penalized for this reason. This is encouraging, but the penalty may be covert. A National Women’s Law Center study found that mothers in the U.S. get paid 71 cents for every dollar their male counterparts make, which adds up to a pay gap of $16,000 per year in lost wages.


Self-Care

The onus of finding healthy work-life balance has largely fallen on women themselves. This compounds the load women carry. Many working women feel guilty, like they are perpetually falling short in at least one area of their lives. The bucket that often runs dry first is self-care. Regular exercise, nutrition, and mental health drop on the list of priorities as women scramble to meet other obligations. Indeed, for some women, it can feel like self-care is one more area where they are falling short.


Airlines remind passengers on every flight to put an oxygen mask on themselves before assisting others. In order for women to be most effective in all of their roles (at work, in the home, and in the larger community), they need the time, tools, and permission to take care of themselves. Kolade underscores this point: “What women need is not more tips on how to manage work and home, but rather institutional support that understands and adopts the peculiarities of being a career woman in today’s society.”


Attendees of the 2023 REACH Women’s Conference expressed a desire for employers to recognize the different types of caregiving that women are often responsible for, including not only childcare but eldercare. Women want access to benefits and services to assist with these responsibilities. They also want employers to respect boundaries by not requiring, expecting, or normalizing work outside of work time. When work is required during off-hours, women expressed a desire for comp time.


When asked if their employer genuinely cares about the mental health and wellbeing of its employees, only 58% of CSWW respondents agreed; women working for large organizations were less likely to agree. Women attending the 2023 REACH Women's Conference shared that they want their employers to encourage wellness by offering wellness breaks, meditation training, meditation rooms, and even yoga classes. Normalizing lunch breaks (including walks), mental health services, mental health days, remote/hybrid work, flex time, and the use of vacation time were other common suggestions.


Employer Takeaways

A 2023 study out of the University of Oxford showed a clear link between workplace wellbeing and company profitability. Since employers stand to gain from the enhanced productivity, innovation, and creativity that result from overall employee wellbeing and healthier work-life integration, workplace benefits should be evaluated with this in mind.


For example, 82% of CSWW respondents indicated that mental health care coverage was very important or absolutely essential as a workplace benefit. This was second only to affordable medical insurance. Two thirds of respondents said that the opportunity to work from home at least occasionally was very important or absolutely essential to them, and 77% said flex time (same total hours with greater schedule flexibility) was very important or absolutely essential. Contrary to the latest stance of many large corporations, McKinsey’s 2023 Women in the Workplace study confirmed that the ability to work remotely led to both enhanced productivity and better work-life balance, with a majority of women (and men) reporting less fatigue and burnout when working remotely.


The Department on the Status of Women within the City of San Francisco, California developed recommendations for employers to support women in the pursuit of healthy work-life balance. Among those are “concrete, verifiable actions,” including the implementation and promotion of flexible work options, family leave, wellness programs, workforce exit and reentry opportunities, and daycare services. Additionally, the Department emphasized the importance of professional development and mentorship opportunities, which many women consider unaffordable luxuries.


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