Research into Work Life Balance across the City

Research into Work Life Balance across the City

Which ‘City’ professions tend to offer employees a better work/life balance?  How do mothers, fathers and professionals without children working in ‘City’ firms feel about the support they receive from their employer?

Here at Cityparents we often talk with our members about their experiences of pursuing a City career and juggling this with a busy home/family life, particularly when parenting or caring responsibilities are part of the mix. We hear that consistently, the biggest challenge voiced by many is how to get the balance right between work commitments and home life.   Many members speak of extremely long working hours; being unable to ‘switch off’ in the evenings, at weekends or on annual leave; and often having to sacrifice family time or commitments when these clash with an important client event or business deadline.

At the same time, through our work with City employers, we know that many are continuously reviewing and updating their HR and Diversity & Inclusion policies so that they are providing appropriate support to employees across their organisations.   Many firms invest in promoting a more flexible, inclusive working culture and finding creative ways to signpost employees to the support available in their organisation.  Increasing attention is being paid by City employers to mental and physical wellbeing in the workplace, both through the provision of employee benefits and services and by offering support via internal (and external) networks, champions, social media channels and mentoring schemes.

We wanted to dig deeper into this issue of work/life balance in the City and find the answers to questions such as:

  • Are the negative experiences outweighed by the positive ones, when you look across the City and Canary Wharf? 
  • Do ‘City’ professionals think that overall, their work environments are becoming more supportive? 
  • Do men and women report similar experiences or does this vary by gender? 
  • Are employees more optimistic about their work life balance in certain professions?

Our new, City-wide benchmark

So as part of our annual Cityparents survey last June, we created a new City Index of Work Life Balance[1], consisting of 5 statements that measure employees’ experiences of work life balance at their City firm.  These statements range from an evaluation of their current work life balance and how they see this changing, to the workplace policies offered by their employer and how well these are implemented. 

We asked our members to state the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with the 5 statements.  The results tell us about the current experience of work across the City and whether members think this is improving.  We can drill down into the findings to look at results for different demographics and industries, and we’ll be tracking the scores each year to determine how fast things are changing, and what may be contributing to this.

So what do the results tell us?

Overall, it’s a close run thing – the overall City Index score is 47% favourable.   This means that on aggregate, 47% of participants agreed positively with the 5 statements.   Whilst clearly not a majority, this outnumbers the 27% responding unfavourably (the remainder selected either ‘neutral’ or ‘not applicable’).  So on balance, more City professionals comment positively on their worklife balance than negatively. But the picture is more complex than this.

Digging a little deeper, we find that 60% of respondents agree that the culture in their organisation is becoming more supportive towards employees – a positive view of the direction of change.  54% believe that their employer offers flexible, inclusive policies, however only 42% believe these policies are effectively translated into day-to-day working practices and attitudes.  This confirms that the ‘say/do gap’ we have reported before is still very much in evidence.

Overall, people are least confident (only 27% favourable) about their ability to further their careers at their current employer without making unsustainable sacrifices in their personal/family life. This suggests a deep concern about promotions requiring an individual to take on yet more responsibility and workload, reducing still further their ability to enjoy some quality time at home/with the family.

Does the picture vary by gender?

In overall terms, there isn’t a big difference in favourable responses from men compared to women, at 51% and 47% respectively.  However, look through a parenting lens and the results start to tell a different story. 

Professionals without children respond far more positively, with a 65% favourable score overall, compared to a favourable score by all parents of 56%.  The concept of a ‘motherhood/fatherhood penalty’ to describe the negative impact that becoming a parent has on likely career earnings is well-documented in the press. Our research suggests that a similar ‘parenthood penalty’ applies to the quality of work life balance as well.

Looking across the gender divide, (step)fathers and men without children typically rate their worklife balance more favourably than (step)mothers and women without children.  However, there is a greater extreme between (step)fathers and men without children than between their female counterparts.  Put bluntly, fathers are finding it far harder to achieve a meaningful work life balance than men without children, and indeed harder (though the gap here is narrower) than both mothers and women without children.  

Do some City industries offer a better work life balance than others?

Yes, it would appear so from our data.  Professionals (both men and women) working in Human Resources commented the most favourably compared to other ‘City’ professions, whilst Asset Management posted the lowest favourable scores for both men and women.  In Management Consulting, women report a more positive experience of work life balance than men while the reverse is true in Banking, Finance & Regulation and in the Law.

Find out more …

We’ll explore some of the reasons behind these findings in a follow-up article.  In the meantime, if you think your organisation does a great job of supporting parents at work, why not nominate them for an award?  Our partner charity, Working Families, is welcoming applications now for its annual 'Top Employers for Working Families' Awards, with categories including 'Best for Modern Families' and 'Best for Embedded Flexible Working'.  Applications close on 3 April.

Meanwhile, if you’re interested in seeing the details behind these headline findings, the full City Index of Work Life Balance report (including gender, parenting and industry breakdowns ) is available to purchase as a pdf report here.  It is free to download for Premium members of Cityworks. 

Helen Beedham
Head of Corporate Affairs, Cityparents


[1] Sample size 1,099

Category: Cityworks News

Released On 26th Jan 2017

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