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Even as work-life policies at companies like Netflix get better on paper, they go mostly unused in practice.

That was our hunch—and a study from and McKinsey & Co. proves it.


More than 90% of both women and men believe they’ll take a career hit. They’re worried about looking less committed than their peers.

So while most of the 118 companies surveyed offer flexible work programs, only a fraction of workers take advantage. Just 4% opt for extended maternity leave, for instance, while 7% sign up for a sabbatical.

But flexible policies are a big hit with those few who go out on a limb to use them: about three-quarters of telecommuters and workers with reduced schedules say the arrangements make a big impact.

And that suggests corporate culture has some serious catching up to do.

Read next: 9 Things No One Tells You About Work-Life Balance

What It Means for Women in the Workplace

The survey analysts don’t sugarcoat it: our collective fear of using programs meant to improve work-life balance hits women especially hard.

That’s partially because women still have more work waiting at home. Among senior managers, 30% say they do more chores than their partners and 27% do more childcare. And those rates are even higher among entry-level women.

Motherhood isn’t necessarily holding back ambition, though. One of the more striking findings is that moms are 15% more interested in becoming execs than the child-less.

But gender can become a sticking point when it comes to actually advancing—surveyed women, regardless of family status, say that the workplace still feels skewed toward men.

Looking Ahead …

The researchers offer up a few suggestions for improving workplace culture, including rethinking performance reviews, highlighting successful examples of flexible leave-taking, and encouraging mentorship and diversity programs.

If you’re looking for ways to boost your work-life balance in the meantime, consider the sanity-saving hacks that have worked for these six people.

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