On the Job
Is There Really Such a Thing as Balance?
Making home and family compatible, not competitive
-Diane Halpern and Fanny Cheung
No matter what your job or your salary, balancing the demands of the office with the needs of home is often tricky.
In our new book, Women at the Top: Powerful Leaders Tell Us How to Combine Work and Family, we turned to 62 women in high-level positions who also had children or other family-care responsibilities, such as elder care. They shared many of the strategies that work for them and can work for the rest of us, whether you are working in an entry-level position, mid-management, or at any job that pays the rent and puts food on the table.
Most strikingly, the women surveyed tended to think about work and family as compatible rather than competitive areas of their life. They believe that being a good mother is about being involved and available, but not necessarily 24/7. They set boundaries for themselves so that there are work and family times and times when work and family can be combined, such as returning work-related phone calls while waiting for a child who at the dentist’s office or by working at home for an hour after the children are asleep. They have also learned not to give in to guilt.
Here is a sampling of the strategies these women use to be successful–at work and on the home front:
• Make rules for yourself so that transitions from work and family can be easier, such as Sunday is family day, but Sunday night is a time for catching up on work. There are many possible rules for setting family and work time. The rules you might set depend on the type of job you have and the age(s) of your children, but having set rules in mind will make it easier to focus on family or work because you will know that other obligations will taken care of at other times.
• Get and stay really organized. For example, by keeping one calendar for both family and work activities, women are less likely to get overbooked or double-booked. They can be sure that they don’t miss a child’s play or soccer game because it is scheduled in advance.
• Keep family members in touch. Women (or men) can arrange for children to phone in after school, send text messages when they arrive somewhere, or be available by phone.
• Create expectations at work that are consistent with being a parent. For example, executives can make it clear that they will leave the office at 6:30 (or some other time) so that they can eat with their family. Those not in management positions must let employers know in advance when we can and cannot work overtime.
• Outsource everything that you can that does not directly benefit family or work. If you can afford to have someone clean you home, do it; if not, then relax housekeeping standards so that time with children and other family members come first.
• Find work that you love. People are happiest when they are engaging in work they find satisfying and in their close personal relationships. Combining work with family care responsibilities is not easy, but with commitment and planning, we can all enjoy the benefits of having multiple roles.