Work Life Balance Essay

1. Introduction

1-A. Work-Life Balance (how the term was coined, and its common application)

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Definition

Work-life balance is a broad concept including proper prioritizing between “work” (career and ambition) on one hand and “life” (pleasure, leisure, family and spiritual development) on the other. Related, though broader, terms include “lifestyle balance” and “life balance”.

Historical Background

The expression, work-life balance, was first used in the late 1970s to describe the balance between an individual’s work and personal life. Officially coined in 1986 in the United States by Tom Brown:

“It used to be that work-and-life balance was a boutique issue,” he says.

“You know, something that would be great to worry about whenever — and if — one had some free time. But imbalance is killing people!”
—Tom Brown, “Time to diversify your ‘life portfolio’?,” Industry Week, November 10, 1986

Over the past three decades, there has been a substantial increase in work-load which was brought about by three main factors: The information technology sector saw an explosion in economic success and global expansion; an intense, competitive work environment that has become a performance culture that expects more and more from their employees yet offers little security in return; and finally, a consumerism social mindset that happiness is attained by having more “stuff” and that working more will allow one to purchase more “stuff”.

Ironically, despite the experts’ prediction that technology would eliminate most household chores and provide people with much more time to enjoy leisure activities, many chose to ignore this option choosing instead to increase work ethic and as a result decrease the importance and value of parenting.

Employee assistance professionals suggest that the reasons for this situation range from personal ambition and the pressure of family obligations to the accelerating pace of technology. The Center for Work-Life Policy conducted a recent study and found that 1.7 million people consider their jobs and their work hours excessively challenging and demanding because of globalization.

These difficult and exhausting conditions are having adverse effects. According to the same study, 50% of top corporate executives are leaving their current positions due to a myriad of reasons ranging from personal health to household problems. Although sixty-four percent of workers feel that their work pressures are “self-inflicted”, they acknowledge that it is taking a toll on them. The study shows that 70% of US respondents and 81% of global respondents say their jobs are affecting their health.

Work-Life Balance in China

“We Americans are often accused of being out of balance.  Too much work, 24 x 7 schedules, and the stresses of contemporary life threaten to destroy the balance, or perhaps for many already have.  What are we to say then of the Chinese, most of whom work a seven-day schedule?  There is no weekend to bring that little bit of respite into one’s life, that much needed opportunity to recharge the batteries and get ready for another tumultuous week of work.

When the UMassOnline traveling team arrived in Beijing yesterday afternoon (Sunday), there were our friends from the China Education & Research Network and the China Continuing Education Association to greet us at the airport and to host us at a marvelous dinner Sunday evening.  Our colleagues willingly gave up their weekend for a leisurely and friendly welcome dinner.  But, wait!  Weekends are a non-event in China.  Sunday is the same as Friday is the same as Wednesday, etc.  Are the Chinese utterly contemptuous of the work-life balance notion?

A closer inspection suggests they are not.  It seems to me that the Chinese have learned to balance the whole in ways that westerners have difficulty grasping.  Where we tend to compartmentalize so many of the divergent aspects of our daily lives–work, family, social, recreational, etc.–the Chinese seem to deal with these as an organic whole.  The boundaries between work and social tend to be much less pronounced in China.  Friends and co-workers are perhaps not the discrete groups that we are familiar with in the U.S.  We Americans search for balance precisely because the lines of distinction are so harsh.  Perhaps we need to take a page from the Chinese and soften these barriers.  Find the balance within the whole.  A philosophy worth trying.  But, I’m not foresaking my weekends just yet!” – David Gray (American working here in China)

Dimensions of Work-Life Balance

In general, work-life balance is not solely defined by how many hours one spends at work. In fact, work-life balance is comprised of three main dimensions that together form our adopted concept of work-life balance:

v  Time Allowance & Scheduling

v  Children and Elderly Care

v  Personal Life Assistance

These three dimensions will be explored in more detail in the analysis of this paper

1-B. Background of IT Industry

The information technology (IT) industry has become one of the most explosive industries in the world. IT, more than any other industry, has increased its productivity by such a large factor that it has become a key driver of global economic growth, especially in the developed world. Economies of scale and insatiable demand from both consumers and enterprises are the main drivers for this rapidly growing sector.  The Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) explains ‘information technology’ as encompassing all possible aspects of information systems based on computers. Both software development and the hardware involved in the IT industry include everything from computer systems, to the design, implementation, study and development of IT and management systems. The global reach of the internet has been the life-blood of its unprecedented growth and integration into other sectors and industries and its wide range available products has caused the demand for IT services to increase substantially over the years. The IT sector has emerged as a major global source of both growth and employment.
Features of the IT Industry at a Glance

v  Economies of scale for the information technology industry are high. The marginal cost of each unit of additional software or hardware is insignificant compared to the value addition that results from it.

v  Unlike other common industries, the IT industry is knowledge-based.

v  Efficient utilization of skilled labor forces in the IT sector can help an economy achieve a rapid pace of economic growth.

v  The IT industry helps many other sectors in the growth process of the economy including the services and manufacturing sectors.

The role of the IT Industry

The IT industry can serve as an intermediate of e-governance because it can provide easy access to information. However, there are a few governments that restrict this access to information in the form of censorship and firewalls; China being a prime example. The use of information technology has also been paramount in the service sector by significantly improving operational efficiency and adding to transparency. Finally, another great contribution of the IT industry is that it also serves as a medium of skill formation, training, and diversification.

2.  Purpose of our Study

The purpose of this study is to conceptualize the abstract concept of work/life balance within the IT industry. It is a widely coined term that we feel may be confused or misunderstood because of its wide application and its rather abstract ideas. We will be using the IT industry as our prime illustration but we feel that the findings will be applicable across other industries and its conceptualization can be used universally with some modifications. We will explain the three main dimensions of work/life balance:

·         Time Allowance and Scheduling

·         Child and Elderly Care

·         Personal Life Assistance

3. Main Analysis

3-A. Time Allowance and Scheduling

Work life balance in time allowance and scheduling

Some believed that work life balance is not concerning time employees spending at work, it is more about mind spending on work no matter the physical body is?  The concept about mind spending or work is more important explained that what more important than physical existence spending at workplace is the ability to relax and recharge employees’ mind energy or willingness to work.  For the concept of spending more time at workplace is important they claimed that employees will be able to perform better in working environment.  Flexibility of working time is tool to promote work life balance.  The analysis will help explain, find the common ground, and what could be best tactic to get to ultimate goal which is employees’ satisfaction and commitment to organization.

Mind spending on work concept:

Time spending at workplace is not a key issue as long as people still can handle their private matter and keep themselves motivated in working.  Even employees spend a lot of time in company, doesn’t mean that they will be able to perform their task well.  If they have their personal matter to be worried about then their performance might not be as good as it needed to be.  At workplace; employees might felt that if they can focus on work and get things done by the end of the clock, they will satisfy.  The concept presented that if during work, they can take a rest, get relaxed, to fuel up their energy then bring their focus back to work; even though spending less time at workplace, these employees still be able to satisfy with their job and perform productively.

Time spending at workplace concept:

Time spending is a key issue, employee need to commit to their task by spending more time at work and working environment will drive them to perform better.  Flexible timing or schedule to start and leave the work place is the tool to comfort employees.  They will be able to adjust their work time to cope with the private task that they need to handle.  With flexibility in adjusting working time for employees, employees still face constrain in having duty to fulfill their working hour.

Analysis

Most company that use concept of focusing on mind spending at work still have standard working hour.  SAS for instance, SAS want to have their employees perform well within the working hour, so they provide a lot of support to employees in coping with their personal issue whether it’s a gymnasium for employees to get relax from stress or child and elder care.  While company that focus more on appearance at workplace, IBM for instance, tended to use flexible working hour to allow employees to adjust their working hour and use their free standard working hour (hour that they gain by work for company during their free time).  There is a shared factor that both thought extend their concern to which is ability for employees’ ability to handle with their own private issue.  There is an empirical study in IT industry about organization support on private issue and flexible working hour whether it help increase job satisfaction and commitment to organization or not.  The result is quite interesting as only organization support will has an effect on employees’ satisfaction and commitment to organization.  Flexibility of working hour didn’t show any significant relationship toward employees’ satisfaction and commitment to organization.

Case

We can use above companies to illustrate, case between SAS and IBM.  SAS didn’t provide a flexible working hour but they emphasize a lot on helping employees cope with their private issue.  While IBM provide less support to employees in handling their private issue but provide flexible working hour in each week whether work less or more than standard working day in each week.  Ranking in fortune work/life balance ranked SAS as number 1.

3-B. Child and Elderly Care

The women’ working opportunity has been increasing since high technology enables to join women’s involvement, especially IT industry.

Work-Family Conflict (WFC)

High technology brings not only the opportunities for women’s works but also increasing the work-family conflict (WFC). Work-family conflict (WFC) is an inter role conflict which appears when the requirements of one role make it difficult for an individual to fulfill the requirements of the other role (Greenhaus and Beutell, 1985). In order to reduce WFC, some individuals try to reach an acceptable level of work family balance (Clark, 2000; Greenhaus et al., 2003). To be specific several companies have implemented so-called “family-friendly practices” to reduce WFC (Lockwood, 2003).

Family-Friendly Practices (FFPs)

FFPs are human resources practices designed to help employees alleviate the conflict between work and family-roles (Friedman, 1990). Studies have shown that FFPs have many positive effects on individuals, both users and non-users of the practices. They increase attitudes and behaviors such as attachment and loyalty to the organization, organizational citizenship behaviors, and job satisfaction (Breaugh and Frye, 2007; Grover and Crooker, 1995; Lambert, 2000).

One study suggests that FFPs influence applicants’ decision processes. All the organizations described as offering a practice designed to reduce WFC were perceived as more attractive than organizations that did not offer any such practice.

Parenting or a women’s issue?

Work-family conflict is a growing concern for all Canadians, not just those with children at home. An increasing number of non-parents report difficulty fitting in volunteer commitments, or educational, leisure or health pursuits. We may not all be parents but we are all children : one in four Canadians now cares for an elderly family member, up from 6% a decade earlier (conference Board of Canada, 1999).

Also, according to a 2003 study by the Women’s Executive Network, women are twice as likely as men to report work-life imbalance, and with good reason : despite a massive influx into the workforce, women retain the greater share of responsibility for child care, elder care and domestic chores (Work-Life Compendium 2001).

Case

What’s it like to work for one of the Best of the Best? To find out, we sought out employees from each of our Top 10 and asked them to reflect on what made their company great. “Flexibility,” answered Emily Duncan, vice president of culture and diversity at Hewlett-Packard. And so it went, I will address two thought-provoking comments from Emily, Mark—both of them good at articulating what their companies do right.

1)      HEWLETT-PACKARD COMPANY (Emily Duncan, VP of culture and diversity) : Emily has seen the future and sums it up in a word: flexibility. As aging baby boomers demand alternative ways to work, companies will have to think more broadly about what flex means. HP, a global IT firm, is perfectly positioned for this, she says, because it strongly supports flexibility. Many HP employees are already on flexible work for taking babies, and the company is always searching for new options that meet their needs. “That’s part of our culture,” says Emily. “It’s all about creating a workplace that gives employees the tools and resources to work to their best potential.”

2)      IBM (Mark Loughridge, senior VP and chief financial officer) : IBM, the global developer and manufacturer of industrial and consumer technology, has been on 100 Best for 20 years straight(WORKING MOTHER 100 BEST COMPANIES). And it continues to look for ways to give employees more control of how, when and where their work gets done. “We view work/life programs as tools to achieve business results, not as barriers or obligations we must provide,” Mark says. IBM programs assist employees at every stage of life, as he himself knows well. A father of six, Mark tapped IBM’s college-planning materials for his teenagers.

3-C. Personal Life Assistance

Work-family balance to work-life balance

In recent years, the term ‘work/life balance’ has replaced what used to be known as ‘work-family balance’. The shift from work-family to work/personal life arises from the emergence of diversities in family-structure such as unmarried, single-parent, married with no child in America. As employees more struggled to balance work responsibilities with personal life under self-reliant control, organizations adopted personal support programs to increase productivity of labor forces efficiently.

Personal Life Assistance

Among three aspects of WLB, Personal life assistances more focus on personal life support beyond limited to family-life support. Personal life assistances generally include EAPs, career program, health care program and leaves. Here are key programs for personal life assistance;

1)      EAPs: substance abuse, safe working environment, emotional distress, health care concerns, financial or legal concerns, family/personal relationship issues, work relationship issues etc. Employee assistance programs (EAPs) are representative personal life assistance programs, “job-based programs operating within a work organization for the purposes of identifying troubled employees motivating them to resolve their troubles, and providing access to counseling or treatment for those employees who need these services.” (Sonnenstuhl and Trice, 1990:1). 95% of Fortune 500 companies (in 2008) provide EAP services to their employees. In most western countries, employers contract with a third-party company to manage its EAP.

2)      Career program: career development program (internal/external training), Employee Value Proposition

3)      Health/Wellness program: programs range from health club facilities to smoking cessation initiatives to stress management workshops

4)      Leaves: Regulatory leaves like maternity and jury duty as well as additional options for time away from work such as educational leave, community service leave and sabbaticals.

Stress and Personal Life Assistances

Jim Rohn, business philosopher, categorized the five life areas, stated balance came from all five life areas; economic/financial, social, health/wellness, business/career, and personal balance. If someone lost their balance among these areas, it brings about stress both in work place and personal life. Stress have many consequences including job burnout, ill-health, high staff turnover, absenteeism, low morale, and reduced efficiency and performance (Hannigan, Edwards, & Burnard, 2004). Because EAP concentrates on mental care of employees beyond the policies by the labor law, EAP has become a very important and popular institutional mechanism in many enterprises for promoting health and emotional well-being, reducing absenteeism, and improving performance (Cooper, Dewey, & O’Driscoll, 2003; Ruiz, 2006; Strazewski, 2005).

Work Life Balance

The best individual work-life balance varies over time. The term of ‘balance’ is different for every people, and depends on the situation. In addition, the practices of PLA are strongly related to culture and perception, it seems to be impossible to apply to every culture in a same way. For example, EAPs are widely accepted in western countries. However, especially for Asian-based companies, most of employees are reluctant to share their personal problem with others. And employees view the EAP with distrust, seeing it as a possible management tool for.

The core concept of personal work-life balance can be simply addressed achievement and enjoyment. Enjoyment means pride, satisfaction, happiness, celebration, love, and a sense of well-being. These subjective feels doesn’t just come from the organization’s policy or system, but come from the soft sides such as careful perception and consideration of employers. And PLA policies should be based on employees needs’.

Case

Employees working for IT industry are usually under high-level of working stress caused by fast moving environment surrounding them. So this makes IT companies adopt more benefit policies for employees’. Cisco is well-known for personal support for employees both in hard (policy, system) and soft sides (perception, mindset). It can be addressed a good example of WLB.

1)      CISCO

“I really believe that employees are more engaged and more productive when they’re not worried sick about their kids, an aging parent and themselves,” says Phyllis Steward Pires, human resources, CISCO. CISCO has known for strong compensation and benefits to recruit and retain valuable high tech employees. Cisco provides full service EAP. A unique feature of the EAP is a consultation service for managers and supervisors to assist them in handling difficult situations related to their manager role. Referrals for legal and financial consultations are also available. Cisco is ranked as 16 of Fortune’s best companies to work for in 2010.

–      Legal advice, emergency assistance and support, and well-being seminars.

–      Face-to-face and telephone support is available through an independent third-party organization that specializes in providing workplace counseling services.

–      Web-based resources provide information on a wide variety of family, mental health, and well-being topics, and a resource library provides information on depression and alcohol abuse

–      A worldwide Employee Discount Program that provides discounts for our staff at hundreds of retailers. More than 70 percent of our staff has registered with the program and more than 50 percent use it on a monthly basis.

4.  Conclusion & Recommendation

It is very important to manage personal time and working time. As we can see, many companies have used a lot of ways to help their employees to manage their times. Such as giving them gyms, flexible work times and even using family friendly practices. However, even though external factors are given to help the employees manage their work life time, it is up to the employees themselves to take advantage of them. If the employees do not take advantage of these given opportunities, there will be a lot of damage for both the employee and the company.

            In today’s society, balancing work time and personal time is a very hard task, because we are living in a really competitive world now and by completing more task and becoming outstanding in the company almost means a raise in salary or a raise in position. However, many employees do confuse the fact that by completing more tasks they need to work more. They even forget to live their own life, instead they live to work. Yes! In the short term they might complete more tasks then other employees, but will their glory and completion of their task really last long? In addition, what is the quality of their work? In our project, we are mainly focusing on the IT industry; An IT industry is usually more creative than other industries, and if the employee is working long term and forgetting his/her own life, would he/she still be as creative? Working long means more stressed. Employees should focus on what they want in life first, before they start putting stress on themselves. They should learn that working is just part of life, work to live a better life, not live to work their life off!!

            Yet the pressure probably does not only come from oneself about focusing on working, it probably also comes from their peers. When an employee is trying to relax and take some time off, they might be seeing their peers working all the time. This puts stress on themselves, because they could be thinking while I am taking some relaxing time off, my peers are getting a lot of work done! This is a disadvantage for me etc. However, employees should think that in the long term, they are doing better than their coworkers, because they are managing their life the right way!

            Workers should really try to balance their life and work. There are greater things out there than working such as families, friends, holidays etc. But of course slacking off is also not a good idea. Making excuses to slack of work is also a big No! Employees should take advantage of all the things companies try to provide them with. Work when they have to and complete the job with effort, if they feel stressed, walk around a bit, go have some snack and coffee! Don’t just sit and keep working, because the results would have just been the same and probably even worse compared to go having a break!

Recommendations:

            Several things can be improved and done by both the employees and the workers. First of all, since we are focusing on an IT industry, I believe that by giving a task and a reasonable due date for the employees is the best. I believe the company should allow the employees to work whenever they want to and feel like it, however they must complete the task at a certain deadline. Yet this is merely a suggestion, since, this might not work for every company or employees, because some employees might be procrastinators and put of work until the last minute. However, I do believe this method will work for the general crowd, because the company can set certain quality for the works they want. If this strategy does not work for the company, the company can try encouraging the employees by giving them holiday breaks like giving some employees every Thursday and Friday off for the first month and other employees Mondays and Tuesdays etc.

            As for employees, they could keep a diary by themselves and plan out certain things that they are going to do besides work. Therefore they can keep track of what they have done besides working. They should also plan trips with their families and go out and do some of their hobbies, because sacrificing their hobbies for work is not that worth it

5. Limitations and Further Study

5-A. Counter Examples (possibility)

THE DRIVE TO BE A LEADER

According to the DDI(Development Dimensions International, Inc)’s survey (included 4,559 leaders and 944 HR representatives from 42 countries), three-quarters of leaders want to be promoted, mostly because they want to broaden their skills and make an even greater contribution to the company.

Many first-time leaders have high ambition and want to climb the corporate ladder. In some cases they are driven by ambition, but many indicate that their drive to lead is fueled by a desire to grow and contribute to the organization. We found that a little more than three-quarters (77 percent) of leaders want to be promoted to higher levels of leadership (39 percent are highly motivated). When asked about their motivations for advancement, by far the most common reasons were the desire to grow and the desire to make a greater contribution to the company. Thus, personal ambition and need for achievement drive many leaders to work/life imbalance.

Opting for Work/Life Imbalance (Many employees view long hours as a necessary evil)

Why do some employees consistently put in 60-hour workweeks and ignore employer-sponsored programs to enhance work/life balance? “Some people simply don’t want balance,” says FutureWork Institute consultant Joseph Gibbons. “We have to stop saying that everyone should have work/life balance.”

 At Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, Michael Scheidemann, assistant director of recruiting, says that “some employees charge forward as fast and furious as they can, and others have decided that they don’t need to be a partner in the practice.” Ambitious fast-trackers set their own pace and “know what they are getting into,” he notes.

At the New York Times, where daily deadlines create enormous pressures for many of the newspaper’s 4,500 employees, “people complain, especially in the news department, but they love their jobs,” says Dennis L. Stern, vice president for human resources. “They came here knowing what the hours would be. There is self-selection.”

Still, there is some indication that employees view long hours as a prerequisite for advancement on the job. In a recent FutureWork Institute survey of almost 6,000 people, “only 9 percent identified themselves as fast-trackers,” Gibbons says, “but 29 percent of senior managers identified themselves as fast-trackers, and that tells the whole story. These people are setting the cultural standard.”

Catalyst studies have identified professionals and managers who would like to take the fast track for a while and then plateau for a period. “Once you plateau, however, you are no longer seen as being on the advancement track,” says Marcia Brumit Kropf, vice president for research and information services. “In many companies, re-entering the fast track is very hard and not acceptable because you are written off in certain ways.”

5-B. Problems with abstract conceptualizations

One obvious limitation with this paper is that conceptualizations regarding abstract concepts are very difficult to define and establish a solid, concrete conceptualization that can consistently be applied in all situations. Our attempt is not to provide the be-all and end-all of the concept of work-life balance but instead to provide managers a more comprehensive analysis of work-life balance in an attempt to provide a clearer understanding of the implications this fairly new concept can have on a company’s success. Our research and our findings will suffer from the difficulties associated with abstract conceptualizations and that a balance will have to be achieved between robustness and applicability across situations/industries. Our paper focuses on the Information Technology industry due to the fact that this industry is a contributing factor to the increased interest and awareness in work-life balance over the past three decades. Furthermore, the unique characteristics of this industry would require managers to make necessary adjustments when applying the information across vastly different industries and situations.

5-C. Lack of cultural sensitivity

A glaring limitation of this paper is its focus on the work-life balance in China and that this concept is strongly influenced by cultural norms and expectations. In fact, there exist a significant deviation between the ideology of work-life balance between North-American and Chinese work practices and this will affect the applicability of research depending on the country and the culture present. The concept of work-life balance is heavily rooted in the cultural ideals of the workers and that could potentially be the most influential factor when workers analyze their own work-life balance scenario/situation. In fact, it is the desire of the authors of this paper that a further study be done that focuses on the work-life balance conceptualization across several cultures and establish norms and expectations across the varied definitions of this concept. They believe that the findings of that research will be quite interesting and that a normative study on the ethics of the varied concepts across cultures would result in very heated, but equally captivating findings.

6.      Reference

Amanda Haslett, Charlotte Smith, Victoria Curry, 2008. “Family Friendly Work Practices at the University of Otago: It’s Alight here.” Otago Management Graduate Review, 48, 1-15

Aselage, Justin and Robert Eisenberger. 2003. “Perceived Organizational Support and Psychological Contracts: A Theoretical Integration.” Journal of Organizational Behavior, 24 (5), 491-509.

Breaugh, James A. and N. Kathleen Frye. 2007. “An Examination of the Antecedents and Consequences of the Use of Family-Friendly Benefits.” Journal of Managerial Issues, 19 (1), 35-52.

Friedman, Dana E. 1990. “Work and Family: The New Strategic Plan.” Human Resource Planning, 13 (2), 79-89.

Grover, Steven L. 1991. “Predicting the Perceived Fairness of Parental Leave Policies.” Journal of Applied Psychology, 76 (2), 247-255.

Grover, Steven L. and Karen J. Crooker. 1995. “Who Appreciates Family-Responsive Human Resource Policies: The Impact of Family-Friendly Policies on the Organizational Attachment of Parents and Nonparents.” Personnel Psychology, 48, 271-288.

Jennifer Smith, Dianne Gardner, 2007, “Factors Affecting Employee Use of Work-Life Balance Initiatives”, New Zealand Journal of Psychology, 1-11

Anne Bourhis and Redouane Mekkaoui. 2010. “Beyond Work-Family Balance: Are Family-Friendly Organizations More Attractive?” relations industrielles / industrial relations – 65-1, 2010, 98-117

Lambert, Susan J. 2000. “Added Benefits: The Link between Work-Life Benefits and Organizational Citizenship.” Academy of Management Journal, 43 (5), 801-815.

R-1. Mark Tausig Rudy Fenwick. Unbinding Time: Alternate Work Schedules and Work-Life Balance.  University of Akron

Mark Tausig, Rudy Fenwick. 2001. “Unbinding Time: Alternate Work Schedules and Work-Life Balance”. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, Vol. 22(2)

Paul R. Bernthal, Richard S. Wellins. 2006 “EXECUTIVE SUMMARY — LEADERSHIP FORECAST”. Development Dimensions International, Inc

Amita Singh 2010, “A Study on the Perception of Work-Life Balance Policies among Software Professionals” Research scholar, INC Research Staff College, Hyderabad, India.

Dora Scholarios, Abigail Marks.  2004 “Work-life balance and the software worker” Human Resource Management Journal, Vol 14 no2, 2004, pages 54-74

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