If men are offered the opportunity to have flexible hours and to take paternity leave — and aren't punished by their managers for...

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If men are offered the opportunity to have flexible hours and to take paternity leave — and aren’t punished by their managers for taking advantage of these options — they often are as eager as their female colleagues to have a life outside of work.

The truth of this statement is apparent at Ernst & Young, a global audit and tax firm with U.S. headquarters in New York. It has some 23,000 employees in this country, half of them men. And its formal flexible work-arrangement policy applies to everyone, including support staff.

Ten percent of all employees use the policy. Not surprisingly, 80 percent of them are women — and that means a surprising 20 percent of those on flex time are men.

What’s propelling the increasing participation, according to Maryella Gockel, the firm’s flexibility-strategy leader, is the introduction in 2003 of a Web site devoted to flexibility and how employees can utilize it.

It “provides tips and techniques that help people succeed both personally and professionally.”

Another work/life boost: In 2001, the company reduced the hours of eligibility for full-time benefits to 20 hours a week from 30.

“As men see other men utilizing our flexible working arrangements, they start to realize they can succeed in a high-performance culture and work in a way that supports their teams, clients and their personal lives,” Gockel said.

“This then becomes a virtuous circle and helps foster a flexible culture throughout the firm.”

The cultural impact of management muscle behind work/life balance also is shown in the fact “that almost 100 percent of men eligible for paternity leave have taken it in the past few years,” the executive pointed out.

Leaving on time: When your boss frequently asks you to stay at work after 5 p.m. and your family — or a friend — is expecting you to be there as soon as possible, is it really OK to just say no?

It is, according to Laura Stack, president of The Productivity Pro, an international consulting firm based in Denver.

“Be assertive,” said Stack, who has an MBA in organizational management and wrote “Leave the Office Earlier” (Broadway Books, $12.95).

“Don’t be afraid to tell others, ‘I leave work at 5 p.m., on time, every day. I have a 5:30 p.m. commitment I must adhere to.’ “

The consultant, who specializes in productivity improvement in high-stress organizations — aren’t they all? — is forceful in her approach:

“It’s nobody’s business that your commitment is with yourself or your family,” Stack said.

She adds, more gently, that being steadfast about your exit hour will work because “people tend to support others when their goals are made public.”

Of course, the other side of the coin is this, according to the consultant: If you want to leave on time every day, you also have to learn how to “get more done in less time.”

E-mail questions to Carol Kleiman at ckleiman@tribune.com. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.