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Are men about to turn the tables on work life balance?

If you had to guess the top reasons why men and women leave their jobs, what would you say? You may well say: money and children. But you would probably be associating the reason with the wrong gender. What’s going on? And what does it say about the way we think about work life balance? 


Last week, media broadcaster and 11-year co-host of the footy show James Brayshaw announced he was leaving his position at Channel Nine, effective immediately.

Although many in the media first speculated that the departure was for financial reasons, in fact, in public statements given to Fairfax Media, his true intent was something quite different.

“None of this dispute had anything to do with money,” he explained. “The money was absolutely fine, right from the start. I wanted to have some flexibility to do other things. Nine were clear they weren’t comfortable with that. I understood their position. I don’t leave with any bitterness or resentment.” He admits he hasn’t been around much for his kids and family and that he hopes to remediate that. “I’ve got to get better at being a dad, and a partner…that’s priority number one.”

His departure comes in the same month as that of New Zealand’s longstanding Prime Minister John Key, who announced he was stepping down in order to find a better work life balance by spending more time with his family. 

They’re not alone. In March last year, Google’s CFO Patrick Pichette left behind his $5.2 million salary in order to embark on a quest (and round-the world trip) to strike a better work life balance. After making a similar decision, CEO of Mongo DB Max Schireson wrote on his blog: “as a male CEO, I have been asked what kind of car I drive and what type of music I like, but never how I balance the demands of being both a dad and a CEO.”

On the other end of the spectrum, a spate of new research has zoomed in on the working priorities of 20 and 30-something women – and uncovered some unexpected results.

A study by the International Consortium for Executive Development Research (ICEDR) found that the top reason why women leave their jobs is to move to a job that pays more elsewhere. The second is a lack of opportunity for learning and development, and thirdly, less-than satisfactory access to interesting or meaningful work.

Within the study, the top reasons women leave their jobs in their 30s are the same as the men in their 30s, despite expectations by the research team – and employers generally – that the most compelling priority for women’s career change is the need for flexibility when starting a family.

Could this be the first sign of a flip in gendered workplace behaviour?

Perhaps. Today, women constitute 71.6 per cent of all part-time employees in Australia, but increasingly, the millennial trend towards prioritising work life balance is continuing as these men become parents themselves. 

A 2013 McCrindle report shows that 16 per cent of dads say they feel that their work and family responsibilities are never, or rarely in balance.

It’s true that there will always be high-intensity jobs that don’t allow for flexibility and it’s certainly not cause for celebration that James Brayshaw left because his employer couldn’t offer him the flexibility he desired.

However it’s worth taking notice that while it’s always been a given that men can ‘have it all’, more and more are starting to ask ‘at what cost?’

Is it time employers began to turn lip service into tangible, structural change when it comes to flexibility? Can it be done in a way that takes traditional gendered expectations out of the equation? And how can HR best guide organisations?

In the opinion of Aaron McEwan, HR Advisory Leader at global talent insights company CEB, it’s more than just a good idea. He forecasts that effectively addressing work life balance will soon be an essential and deciding factor in not only recruiting talent, but retaining it.

“The number one reason we’re seeing people want to join organisations is work-life balance,” he says. “However, the number one reason they leave is a lack of career opportunities.”

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Matt Poland
Matt Poland

Working in a male dominated industry, interestingly females are willingly provided with high levels of flexibility for work hours, start times, short notice appointments etc but interestingly for a single parent male, that type of flexibility is not even considered.

It certainly stems from a sexist attitude where females are still considered the primary care givers & therefore require that greater level of flexibility, reality is both genders need this equally & to be considered equally.

John Robertson
John Robertson

We should talk more about the immense change that has taken place in male working expectations over the course of two generations. It is refreshing to read an article focusing on how the “have it all” doesn’t include all of what a lot of men wish for for their lives. Our society would be a much poorer place without the next generation of Carers, as much as the next generation of CEO’s.

Nikolina Trajcevska
Nikolina Trajcevska

I have an optimistic hope that equality will be achieved and that flexibility can be extended to men to spend times with their families, with the flow on effect of reducing the stigma of the woman being expected to be the primary care giver. The first and logical step (IMO) in this fundamental change is to get businesses to lead the way. Or perhaps a change in parental leave and an emphasis on a greater work/life balance for both parents might be the trigger to the change. Either way it needs to be a cultural change. Additionally, there are so… Read more »

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