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Work-Life Balance Issues? Try Happiness Instead

Robin  Frkal 2

Crossed eyes and gasps in disbelief were what GPS Professor Robin Frkal received from colleagues eight years ago after volunteering to be laid off from her six-figure corporate leadership position. 

Frkal offered herself for the lay-off not because of performance or money, but because “I needed a better work-life balance.” 

She had two young middle-school-aged children and was taking care of her father; wanting a better work-life balance made sense.

But a mere six months later, she was up to her eyeballs in a doctoral program, working as a teacher adjunct all across the state, and building a new career as an academic. 

That’s when she realized she had been lying to herself.

She was still juggling an strenuous career with a family, so why did she feel the need to drop out of the high-level leadership position that she did?

After talking to other women in similar situations, she realized she wasn’t alone. 

It had become clear to Frkal that women often believe they’re leaving their positions to find a better work-life balance because that feels like the answer accepted by society. 

When in reality, there are underlying reasons for their departures.  

And these experiences led to her research, “Opt-out stories: women’s decisions to leave corporate leadership,” conducted and written by lead author Frkal with co-author Noel Criscione Naylor. 

The Cost of Happiness

Frkal’s study searches to better understand why women leave corporate leadership positions. 

Women from across the US were interviewed, and the findings showed a shocking portion of women that leave to find a better “work-life balance” truthfully leave because they don’t feel they’re adding value or being authentic in the way they show up in their work. 

And while work-life balance is often a consideration, the study provides evidence that it is not the primary driver as society so often believes. 

“What’s interesting is in the study we ask questions about what was going on in the time that they left, what they’re doing know, and how they feel as a leader now. (Even though they’re all in different industries) Every one of them talks about how what they’re doing now is more authentic to them and that they’re valued in new contexts,” Frkal says. 

The women experience no regret, and all conclude that they are significantly happier in their new roles.

When asked if Frkal herself had regrets about leaving her corporate leadership position she said, “There’s always a sense of loss when things change. But I’ve never regretted my move at all. It’s an important point to raise because the implication of this small-scale research study is for us to think about as organizations what can we do beyond work-life balance solutions.” 

What Needs to Change?

When asked “How can human resource companies and organizations do better?” Frkal replied “That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it?”

To which her research doesn’t have all the answers, nor was it intended to. 

“But it does provide clues,” she says. 

Leading up to 2020, large organizations have taken steps to respond to women’s unique challenges of being caretakes outside of work, like allowing for flexible work schedules or offering the availability to work from home.  

But where are the policies to make them feel comfortable and valued in their work environment? “Women should not have to comply to a masculine view of leadership,” Frkal says. 

The study hints that businesses should instead prioritize making sure women’s voices are heard, ensuring their assignments are meaningful, and understanding each individuals’ values to confirm they match up with their work.

Frkal believes what truly needs to be changed are social structures and norms to incorporate women in leadership. 

Female Empowerment at Nichols 

Unsurprisingly, Frkal’s research aligns perfectly with other avenues within Nichols College, specifically the Institute for Women’s Leadership at Nichols College. The IWL leads several efforts related to women in leadership, including the Massachusetts Women’s Leadership Index. The Index, led by Communications Chair Jean Beaupre, Ed. D., monitors and assesses the status of women in leadership in the state. 

Director of the Nichols College Institute for Women’s Leadership Rachel Ferreira says 

“The Massachusetts Women’s Leadership Index that Nichols has produced is a great resource to remind us of the work that still must be done to balance the gender ratio in leadership roles across the state. Every time I look at the results, I always think of Massachusetts as such a progressive state, but this shows us how much work we have yet to do.”

Outside of extracurricular organizations, change is being made from within. 

Frkal is the Director of Nichols College Graduate and Professional Studies’ Master of Organizational Leadership program and predicts the existing curriculum will include modern day social issues like gender and race in the coming years. 

Conclusively, Frkal knows change must be made and more research must be done. 

She is already formulating a follow-up study to take place, “The Effects of Gender and Authenticity on Intentions to Stay or Leave a Leadership Position.” 

Some questions to be examined are, “Do men have similar feelings?” and, “Is it unique to gender?”

Frkal will ask both men and women how they identify as leaders, about their authentic leadership style, and what are their three- to five-year intentions. 

Through this, she hopes to get a better sense of if gender is a factor and if this is a generalizable experience.

Interested in learning more about Prof. Frkal’s study? You can read the abstract here: