For many of us, the strictly nine-to-five day is a relic of a bygone workplace—right up there with two-martini lunches and power suits. So you might think that women are fretting about juggling work and life. Yet the women we surveyed reported just the opposite: 68 percent said that their jobs rarely or never interfere with their personal lives.
So what’s going on? Progress, for starters. Some workplaces have adapted their policies to cater to the needs of employees, says Jennifer Kohler, a director of Catalyst, a New York City–based nonprofit research organization dedicated to women’s advancement in the workplace. Nowadays nearly 27 percent of American women work flexible schedules, up from 11 percent in 1984, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Technology such as remote server access and videoconferencing has made it easier to work from home. At the same time, more companies are prioritizing what a staffer does, not where she does it, says Kohler.
But these are not the only reasons why women may be sounding more complacent. Brad Harrington, the executive director of the Boston College Center for Work & Family, cautions that some women have simply grown accustomed to making imperfect trade-offs between work and their personal lives.
To a point, anyway. Women still lose their cool when it comes to certain ways that the office can encroach on home. In a study published last year in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, Scott Schieman, a professor of sociology at the University of Toronto, found that when women have to respond to work-related phone calls or e-mails outside of normal work hours, they feel higher levels of distress than men do. (Anyone who has heard the dreaded pinging at bedtime can relate.) Why? One theory, says Schieman, is that men are traditionally raised to be financial providers and therefore don’t expect to be free from that role even when they are home.
Or perhaps it’s just that women have developed more practical expectations: We know that total work-life balance is an unattainable ideal, so we’ve stopped insisting on it. But we also know that it’s possible for our bosses not to IM us during Downton Abbey—and that’s something we really must insist on.