What women want…..


November 13th, 2013

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“Most women, if given the chance would actually give up working when they have young children”, so thinks Michael O’Leary from Ryan Air. Our findings paint a different picture; that what women want from life and work is the flexibility to balance their work and home lives. We have also found that women gain similar things to men from work.

Roffey Park this year surveyed 1800 managers (to be published in February 2014) of which 1113 were women. What we see is that flexible working is more important to women than men – 45% vs. 35% selected it as a motivator at work. And the majority of women (53%) would like to have a more flexible work pattern, whereas the majority of men (55%) would not.

So what do women want from work? Well, their top five motivators include having an enjoyable job, in which they can make a difference, gain personal achievements, be part of a successful team and be challenged. This is not hugely different to what men want from their work; their top four are exactly the same as women, with their fifth motivator being the only difference – ‘helping others succeed’ is slightly more important for men than ‘challenges’.

Male_Female W_L Motivators

Men and women are equally likely to cite workload as their single biggest stressor, and the need to consistently work longer than their contracted working week to deal with the workload. Where men and women differ is in their view of the impact of these additional hours. 3 out of 10 women as opposed to 2 out of 10 men say they do not have a satisfactory balance between their work and personal life.

Male_Female W_L balance
Whilst we recognise that there are women who are happy not working, we conclude from these findings that there are also many women who not only want to be at work but who gain a great deal of value from it. What they need is a supporting culture and management which provides them the flexible working arrangements to balance their typically full work and family lives. In return they will gain a female employee who is as equally committed to their organisation as the male counterparts, if not more so.

Why is it important for organisations to develop a culture of flexibility?

It is essential for organisations in order to attract, recruit and retain the best talent that they make ‘balance’ a priority issue. Talented people, despite being committed to their career, are also placing an increasing importance on issues of balance. Previous research conducted by Roffey Park (Glynn, 2000) found that managers were prepared to leave their organisation in favour of working for organisations which enabled balance. The same research found that balance was clearly becoming integrated into the way employees perceive careers, “a successful career is therefore becoming defined not only in relation to the individual’s job and work life but is also perceived to be related to their personal life.”

What should organisations do to develop a culture of flexibility?


  • Build a business case for work-life balance: be able to articulate the benefits for both your business and your people
  • The role of the organisation: be creative; think of innovative work-life balance solutions. Highlight examples of senior managers and leaders that role model work-life balance
  • Make sure you make explicit organisational values around employee well-being and work life balance. Reinforce these messages at every possible opportunity
  • Afford managers flexibility to deal with individual team members’ needs. Support their efforts
  • The role of the manager: ensure managers are having regular conversations with staff about projects and their work-life balance needs
  • Managers should role model work-life balance values wherever possible. Make it clear that employees will be judged on outputs rather than hours spent at the desk
  • The role of HR and Training & Development: survey your people; find out whether there are any hot spots. Implement imaginative policies and initiatives that are inclusive, look for best practice to draw upon. Monitor the impact
  • Examine your career models: alongside financial rewards and promotion opportunities are quality of life and personal happiness being considered?
  • The role of the individual: take some time to think what does balance mean to me, be proactive, plan your time and work and talk with your manager about causes of stress and ways in which they can be alleviated.


Checklist adapted from C. McCartney (2003), ‘Work-life balance: a guide for organizations.’ Roffey Park Institute


C. Glynn (2000), /Work-life balance, careers and the psychological contract’. Roffey Park Institute


Julia-WellbeloveJulia Wellbelove
Senior Researcher