A New Work Ethic

IN the days of Horatio Alger and beyond, the work ethic could have been symbolized thus: Hard Work + Long Hours + Ambition = Success. While that equation still holds true for many people, a new work ethic is emerging: Hard Work + Flexibility = Satisfaction and Success.

That is the finding of the National Study of the Changing Workforce, a five-year effort conducted by the Families and Work Institute, an independent research organization in New York. Billed as the most comprehensive study ever of the work, personal, and family lives of workers in the United States, the study suggests a need to change the way jobs and businesses are structured.

What has remained constant over the years is Americans' willingness to work hard. People care intensely about doing their jobs well, the study finds. But now, instead of making extreme sacrifices for their job, they want more flexibility and control over their work and more time for personal and family life. Three-fifths of participants report feeling ``used up'' at the end of the day. Two-thirds of those with families say they don't have enough time with their children.

``American workers are at a turning point, and they're telling employers what they need,'' said Ellen Galinsky, co-president of the institute. The study shows that workers are more loyal, committed, innovative, and satisfied when they have more of a say in how to do their jobs and more control over the scheduling of their work hours. A more supportive work environment and more open communication, they say, will help them to be more productive.

This wish list on the part of over-extended employees comes at a time when many employers themselves feel beleaguered, forced to thin their ranks in an effort to cut expenses and increase profits. At a time when job insecurity remains high, workers often hesitate to speak honestly about their desire for modest changes. And at a time when managers find it necessary to require remaining workers to put in longer hours, such requests may seem hard to accommodate.

Finding ways to reconcile these divergent needs promises to be one of the great challenges of the decade. Yet if greater productivity is the bottom line at work, and a stronger family is the bottom line at home, an open-minded dialogue could lead to collaborative efforts that will pay both tangible and intangible dividends throughout American society.

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