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Many people work because they want to, not just need to, survey shows
A new survey of parents who are interested in work flexibility found that 90 percent reported "needing" to work, but 63 percent also reported "wanting" to work. As always, though, every family needs to find its own way to build the right balance. - photo by Greg Kratz
Shortly before our first child was born, my wife and I sat down to discuss our future work plans. We were both newspaper reporters then, but she was about to start a new career as a stay-at-home mom.

That worried me a bit. I wondered how we could survive on just one paycheck. However, we were fairly sure we could get by on my salary, at least during the first year or two of our adventure in parenthood.

As for the plan after that, we weren't sure. My wife wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, but she also wondered whether she would miss the fast-paced world of reporting.

Eighteen years, four children and several career changes (for me) later, she is still a stay-at-home mom. She's worked some freelance jobs along the way, which has helped us make ends meet. But I've wondered at times whether she missed anything about her full-time journalism career.

This came to mind last week when I saw the results of a new survey from FlexJobs, an online service for people seeking telecommuting, flexible schedule, part-time and freelance jobs.

The survey of 1,081 parents interested in work flexibility found that 90 percent reported "needing" to work, but 63 percent also reported "wanting" to work.

I showed my wife those survey numbers, and she said she wasn't surprised.

"Work is much more immediately rewarding than homemaking and child-rearing," she said. "You get paid, for starters. You get acknowledgement of the good job you do in the form of praise, raises, promotions or just a good professional reputation."

That makes sense to me. There definitely are perks that come with working outside the home, and a frequent paycheck is high on the list.

Going back to the FlexJobs survey, 51 percent of parents cited enjoying work as a top reason for having a job ahead of doing it to pay for luxury items, saving for retirement or wanting to travel. Also, 45 percent of respondents said they were passionate about success in their career, and 41 percent of parents said they worked because they wanted to have a professional impact in the world.

For many respondents, flexible work options are the key to achieving that professional satisfaction and success in the home.

"Family was named the top reason working parents seek flexible work (86 percent), followed by the desire for work-life balance (84 percent)," a press release about the survey said. "Time savings (54 percent), a reduction in commuting stress (43 percent) and cost savings (41 percent) are other factors in parents wanting work flexibility."

My wife said she thinks moms who have part-time or flexible work arrangements feel less "working mom guilt," which is also important to consider.

"I've spoken to moms who work, say, 15 to 20 hours who don't really consider themselves working parents; they're just doing it to support a kid on a mission, or until everybody's through high school," she said. "I probably fall into that a bit myself. Although I do fairly regular freelance work, I don't think of myself as a working parent, but as a homemaker and stay-at-home mom."

Not that she spends that much time at home these days. With two children in high school, one in middle school and one in elementary school, she is constantly shuttling them back and forth to activities, helping with the PTA and volunteering in many different capacities.

The FlexJobs survey addressed that, too, finding that 89 percent of respondents said flexible work would increase their volunteerism at their children's schools. Fifty-six percent of working parents said more flexibility would allow them to start volunteering, and 33 percent who already volunteer said they would be able to do more.

Respondents aren't only focused on the PTA track when they think about flexible work, though. According to the survey, 97 percent of parents said a job with flexibility would have a positive impact on their overall quality of life. Breaking that down a bit, 87 percent said it would decrease their stress, while the same percentage said it would save them money. Eighty percent said such options would make them more healthy.

Although these savings are important for the employee, companies should take note of the benefits of work flexibility as well, said Sara Sutton Fell, FlexJobs founder and CEO, in the press release. Eighty-four percent of working parents say having a flexible job would make them more loyal to their employers, and 63 percent would expect an increase in productivity working from a home office.

Obviously, a company called FlexJobs has an interest in making flexible work sound like a win-win for companies and employees. But I believe these statements also have the benefit of being true.

The flexibility I've had over the years has allowed me to pursue my career goals while still striving to be a good parent. Fortunately, I also have an amazing spouse who I think has a great perspective on this.

"I think I must be in the minority of this survey, because staying at home with my kids is not only something I've always wanted to do and always planned to do, it's also the most fun, challenging, rewarding and meaningful work I can imagine doing," my wife said.

"I love staying home with my kids and making a home for them and for you. But I admit that, as a freelance writer, I am in a great and unusual position to do flexible work when I feel like it while mostly concentrating on motherhood. Not every mom has that option."

That's true, and every family has to find its own way when it comes to work and parenting.

However, if more companies start to offer flexible work options, I believe they'll allow employees and their families to find the same kind of balance we've built and enjoyed in the Kratz household. I sincerely hope that comes to pass.
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