By Cindy Krischer Goodman
How do people manage a personal life when they work in high-pressure workplaces?
To find out, Boston University professor Erin Reid visited a global consulting firm with a strong U.S. presence, where workers are expected to commit to their jobs above all else. After interviewing more than 100 employees, she got her answer: Those who found balance were “passing,” she said, as ideal workers while discreetly using strategy to manage their personal responsibilities.
Some people were able to push back on “always on” expectations and circumvent conflicts without suffering penalties in performance reviews or promotions.
After publishing her findings in the Harvard Business Review and the academic journal Organization Science in April, she discovered “passing” is rampant in workplaces. “The reaction was overwhelming,” she said. “People told me they passed or they knew people who were passing. People are feeling the time crunch and they have found interesting strategies for dealing with it.”
To coping with grueling work expectations, Reid discovered men more often quietly carved out personal time. Women who had trouble with the work hours tended to take formal accommodations, negotiating reduced work hours, for example, and suffered by being marginalized within the firm. Men instead experimented with less formal ways of handling their work schedules.
So what are some of the under-the-radar strategies that workers use?
They choose their clients or customers carefully. The ability to balance may be rooted in the clients you take on. The consultants who enjoyed a personal life managed to get on local, repeat or nonprofit clients or internal firm projects with predictable demands. That made it possible for them to travel less, telecommute more and alter their schedules to work from home at times. By maneuvering, they created a better situation over time through informal tactics rather than by formally requesting a different schedule.