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Middle managers finally on board

Work/life professionals have long blamed managers for not understanding the need to institute flexible policies and other supportive programs even though an increasing number of CEOs and other top executives acknowledge that employees need to balance their personal and professional lives, and that when they do, everyone benefits.

Yet, there's been a stumbling block in implementing work/life programs, and for almost a decade the holdup has been blamed on middle managers. Too often these supervisors don't understand the need for telecommuting, flexible hours or job sharing; instead, they insist on face time at any cost.

But that may be changing.

A recent study of 225 middle managers by Accenture, a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company, shows they are "increasingly dissatisfied with their current organizations."

That probably is no surprise to anyone who understands the enormous workload, responsibilities and decreased staffing many managers have to deal with. But what really caught my eye is that one of the complaints managers had about their companies was a lack of skill in handling work/life issues - something I've never seen mentioned before.

Only one-third of those surveyed said their companies "were good or excellent at managing flexible work arrangements." That means most were not good or excellent at it.

Additionally, the research shows that the second most frustrating aspect of the middle managers' jobs - the first cited was compensation - was "balancing work and personal time."

"The fact that middle managers think their companies are mismanaged is particularly alarming," said Ed Jensen, a senior executive in Accenture's human performance practice in Atlanta.

To me, that's not only alarming but another compelling reason for organizations to get work/life straight. When most middle managers acknowledge the importance of work/life issues, not only for their employees but for themselves, it certainly can be the beginning of important changes for all employees, including managers.

Database established to research work/life

The increasing professionalism of the field of work/life is encouraging. And one giant step forward has been made by WFD Consulting in Boston. Long a pioneer in work/life issues, WFD is now advancing the profession by establishing a database to promote research in the field.

With a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the database will collect facts on workplace flexibility from 30 of the nation's largest companies, said Monica Roper of the firm.

Roper says the database, which is expected to be up and running early this year, "is the first of its kind that anyone knows of. . . . Because it will contain data on 500,000 employees, the new database is believed to be the largest and most comprehensive . . . available on work/life and flexibility topics."

Project manager Jan Civian sees enormous potential for the information that will be collected: "Because of its size, researchers will be able to do analysis along demographic, industry and workforce dimensions to a degree not previously possible."

All of which will make the idea of flexibility more palatable to employers, especially those who want to see quantitative results of work/life initiatives.

One paycheck often can't cover a family's needs

Why are two needed? Isn't one enough?

"One myth fueling the tension between working and stay-at-home moms is the idea that two-paycheck families were sacrificing their children's well-being so they could buy expensive cars and live in fancier houses," said Celinda Lake and Kellyanne Conway, authors with Catherine Whitney of What Women Really Want (Free Press, $26). "The reality is more pragmatic: For many families, one paycheck isn't enough to support even the essentials."

Carol Kleiman writes for the Chicago Tribune.