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Over the last two decades, work and life have transformed so radically that the language we use (e.g. “balance") and the beliefs we hold about the decisions we “should” or “can” make are often out of date.
Here are three examples of work-life assumptions that are frequently wrong -- and costly:
Wrong assumption No. 1: When a woman has a baby, she will want to work part-time (or not at all), and won’t want to take on more responsibility or travel.
Unfortunately, some leaders, managers and colleagues of women in the workplace still make this assumption.
This bias is based on beliefs that continue to influence behavior, even though they no longer broadly apply. For example, Gayle Lemmon recently wrote an article in The Atlantic about research that showed some men in traditional marriages still unconsciously overlook women in the workplace for promotion, etc. because of their assumptions about women and the role they play. In reality, only 29 percent of children have a stay-at-home parent. The rest either live in a single parent home or both parents work for pay.
- Why it’s costly: It costs women in that it reinforces the well-documented “motherhood penalty” that affects their career advancement and earnings. It’s costly to employers because the business doesn’t have access to or develop the talent of some of its best employees.
- Assumption update: Don’t assume. Discuss preferences which each individual woman. After having a child, some women will want or have to work full-time. They’ll be happy to travel and welcome additional responsibilities. And even if they don’t, women who choose to scale back their career may want to only for a certain period of time. Not forever.
Wrong assumption No. 2: Men don’t care about work-life issues.
This is an extension of the previous inaccurate assumption. The bias is that work-life is a women’s issue, or more specifically, a mothers’ issue.
From my experience working inside companies, most men care quite a bit about how they manage their lives on and off the job and want to be invited into the conversation. In fact, research shows that men in dual-earner couples are experiencing more work-life conflict than women.
- Why it’s costly: It costs men because they don’t feel that they have permission to get the support and flexibility they need to manage their work and life better and smarter. Employers lose the productivity and engagement from unnecessarily stressed and overwhelmed men.
- Assumption update: We all need to manage our work-life fit everyday if we want to see our friends and family, stay healthy, etc. That includes men and women. And all of us will experience major life transitions that will require a more formal reset of our work-life fit, whether it’s becoming a parent, caring for an aging relative, relocating with a spouse, going back to school or semi-retiring.
Wrong assumption No. 3: You can’t have a life and start a successful business.
Whether it’s Steve Jobs’ complete devotion to Apple at the expense of time with his family, or Tony Hsieh’s expectation that Zappos employees spend 10 to 20 percent of their time outside of work with one another, the assumed gold standard of successful entrepreneurship is 100 percent work to the exclusion of everything else.
- Why it’s costly: It scares off many women and men with great business ideas but want to tuck their kids in on occasion and maintain a relationship beyond the people at work. The economy as a whole loses because jobs that are badly needed are not created. It costs potential entrepreneurs, especially women, because they don’t have access to as much capital to grow their businesses.
- Assumption update: No one will ever have “balance,” but you can grow a successful business and still have some life outside of work. There are plenty of examples of people doing it and doing it well. This includes the mothers leading successful entrepreneurial ventures who were featured in a recent New York Times article written by Hannah Seligson. Is it hard work? Yes. Can it be done? Yes.
The answer is to assume nothing when it comes to how we want and need to manage our lives on and off the job in a busy, flexible, hectic modern world. Not only are our assumptions often wrong, but they can be costly to both the individual and the business. Instead let’s keep talking to each other. Learn the facts and come up with unique answers that meet our personal needs and the needs of our jobs.
What are the incorrect assumptions that you see people making about work and life? What’s the cost and how can we update those beliefs to match today’s reality?
Cali Williams Yost is the CEO and Founder of the Flex+Strategy Group / Work+Life Fit, Inc., flexible work and life strategy advisors. Her second work+life fit book,” Tweak It: Small Changes, Big Impact—Make What Matters to You Happen Every Day” will be published in January, 2013. Connect with Cali on Twitter @caliyost.
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