May 11, 2014    /    by

Work-life balance: Does your career fit your family?

On Mother's Day, it's time to take another look at this complex issue.

 

work-life balance

Photo Credit: Copyright Shutterstock/Frank Gaertner

A few times a year I come across an article that makes me stop and reevaluate a topic that I have thought-through in the past. Here’s my most recent example from The Independent (UK):

The online generation: Four in 10 children are addicted to the internet

However, it wasn’t the latest fears of rampant cyber-bullying that triggered alarm bells. Nor was it other opening statements claiming that two thirds of 11 to 17-year-olds take their tablet, smartphone or laptop to bed with them to talk to friends online, play games and watch films that caused me to stop and ponder the ramifications. As bad as these stats sound, I’ve heard (and considered) similar issues before.

So what caught my attention when reading this article?

It was this quote: "One 12-year-old girl said: 'The internet nearly always controls my actions. I have been told that I am addicted to the internet, and prefer its company rather than being with other people. I feel lost without the internet.'”

My mind starting racing - I pondered the dozens of huge implications to this trend. What can be done? How can we reverse this developing "new normal" in society?

Instinctively, I started thinking back, googling related topics and reading more recent articles from various perspectives. Some related questions include:

- How can we balance online and offline life?

- Can a person even be addicted to the Internet? (Just a few years ago, the experts said no.)

- Could my family members be addicted to the Internet? Here's a quiz to tell.

- How do children relate to cybersecurity?

- What about the essential role of parents in raising this digital generation? (I love the picture of the two kids with computers on their laps at the beginning of this article).

But the most intriguing aspect of this topic for me is how this article points back to family interactions – and the many evolving issues surrounding work-life balance. Note: Recently, this wider topic was renamed to “work-life fit” by many.

Do men think differently than women on work and family?

As I was surfing the net, I found this fascinating Harvard Business Review study at Slate.com which claims that male executives see this issue very differently than their female counterparts.

Here’s an excerpt:

"...Men tend to choose work without regret when conflicts arise, because they frame their family role as 'breadwinner.' This seems to alleviate any guilt. One interviewee says he doesn’t regret his divorce because he was always a good provider and was able to achieve his goals, and now he spends more time with his kids on weekends. Another says:

'The 10 minutes I give my kids at night is one million times greater than spending that 10 minutes at work.'

As the authors point out, most women would not brag about only spending 10 minutes a day with their children. Contrast this with how a female executive frames her experience: 'When you are paid well, you can get all the [practical] help you need. What is the most difficult thing, though—what I see my women friends leave their careers for—is the real emotional guilt of not spending enough time with their children. The guilt of missing out....'”

To help reframe this issue for the 21st century, I urge you to take ten minutes and watch this funny TED video with four observations on work-life balance from Nigel Marsh.

In case you don’t have the ten minutes to watch (sadly you’ll miss Nigel’s humor), here are Mr. Marsh’s four key observations (slightly edited):

1) If society's to make any progress on this issue, we need an honest debate…. All the discussions about flexi-time or dress-down Fridays or paternity leave only serve to mask the core issue, which is that certain job and career choices are fundamentally incompatible with being meaningfully engaged on a day-to-day basis with a young family.

2) Take personal responsibility - We need to face the truth that governments and corporations aren't going to solve this issue for us.

3) We have to be careful with the time frame that we choose upon which to judge our balance - We need to elongate the time frame upon which we judge the balance in our life, but we need to elongate it without falling into the trap of the "I'll have a life when I retire, when my kids have left home, when my wife has divorced me, my health is failing, I've got no mates or interests left."

4) We need to approach balance in a balanced way - Now I don't mean to mock, but being a fit 10-hour-a-day office rat isn't more balanced; it's more fit.

Towards Solutions: 

Since this is Mother’s Day, I’d like to share some potential solutions. While there is no easy fix to these problems, the Miami Herald offers these apps to share for working mothers. (That would be all moms.)

Cali Williams Yost offers this video with helpful thoughts.

Ms. Yost’s company website has many helpful tools to consider as well.

Fastcompany.com provides five simple tips to help with the juggling act:

1) Make it your responsibility to decide what matters, and when to get it done--no one else is going to determine or prioritize it for you.

2) Don’t keep separate work and personal calendars or priority lists. (Fast Company likes Clear, if you need an app.)

3) Frequently take stock of what's working and what's not--because it's always changing. Put that on your calendar.

4) Schedule time for small, manageable steps in the areas of their life they’ve identified as important instead of just identifying huge, lofty goals.

5) Focus on and celebrate what does get done, not what falls by the wayside--small or partial steps are better than nothing.

Final Thought – Becoming "Off balance on purpose"

I realize that quick tips and helpful reminders don't really solve this deeper issue - which is Nigel Marsh's main point. We all have tough career choices. 

Work-life balance is a very difficult topic that we need to continually come back to throughout our careers. I know that many government and private sector professionals have chosen jobs that minimize travel or other challenges in their career that may take too much time away from their family priorities. I also know that these work-life and online-offline topics are regularly on the minds of most adults.

Photo Credit: Copyright Shutterstock/Tom Wang

I want to leave you with a blog that I wrote a few years back which points to the Dan Thurman idea that we are all off-balance at times, but we can be “Off Balance on Purpose.”  

Happy Mother’s Day!