Balance Programs Make Inroads

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Yes, say observers, even on Wall Street. But ultimately the solution depends on your taking some initiative, your firm's culture, and your specific role.

"All the banks are trying to figure out creative solutions to increase work/life balance," says Stewart Friedman, professor of management and director of University of Pennsylvania's Wharton Work/Life Integration Project. While grueling work schedules may still be the norm for some professions, flexible work schedules across all sectors - including finance - are on the rise, he believes. "People have more opportunities for creating discretion in getting things done than they think."

Culture Shift

Shortened work weeks, telecommuting arrangements and job shares are increasingly integrated into the culture of financial firms large and small. The reason? Companies have no choice but to keep up with changing workplace demographics, which include more women and other employees who crave a meaningful, balanced life. Lehman Brothers, for example, reports the number of its workers worldwide who work on a flexible schedule increased from 14 percent in 2005 to 18 percent in 2006, Friedman says.

"The Ozzy and Harriet model is no longer," Friedman continues. "Enron and 9/11 were major cultural events that had an impact on workforce values. I've seen a radical change at Wharton in the past 20 years in how people feel about what they do. They want to do something meaningful."

Eliza Armstrong, a director in Merrill Lynch's global markets and investment banking group, last year went to a four-day work week to spend more time at home with her three children and an aging parent. She says the transition was seamless, in part because her boss is supportive of flexible schedules. In addition, Merrill already had a system in place to facilitate her decision.

Armstrong rarely works from home on that fifth day, and her salary and vacation reflect that she works 80 percent of her former schedule. "There is a hunger for good, talented people and the workforce is demanding flexible schedules," Armstrong says.

Individual Initiative

In an economy that's hot and spurring a demand for qualified people, employers are being forced to make such arrangements more common. However, Friedman says it takes initiative on the part of the individual - as well as the organization - to create a win-win proposition for alternative work situations. Strategies might include proposing telecommuting one day per week, or shutting off your Blackberry at 6 p.m. - all with an eye toward making your work time more productive. The specifics, of course, depend on your role within the firm.

"The big enabler is the digital revolution," says Friedman. "The trick we all have to learn is how to use these tools to tap into their promise - which is liberation. It's up to each one of us to determine when and how we get things done."

Have you thought about approaching your firm about creating a more balanced approach to work? Would you dare? Post a comment and let us know what you think.

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