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Combining prosperous work lives and balanced personal lives
May/June 2006

My goal is to bring you news, insights, and information about leading a balanced and prosperous life.

In this issue, you'll find:

  1. Honoring Our Parents – Work-life Balance for Moms and Dads
  2. BossWoman coaching
  3. Up and coming workshops

1. Honoring Our Parents – Work-life Balance for Moms and Dads

In the US we traditionally honor our parents with special holidays, Mother’s Day in May and Father’s Day in June. It is a time of cards, flowers, gifts, cookouts, and family celebrations. These holidays remind us that parenting is one of the hardest jobs in the world and it is not even a paid job. The biggest struggle for today’s parents is how to combine a productive work life with a satisfying family life. An explosion of research on this challenge in the last five years on work-life balance points to two groups of success factors in balancing work and home roles. One group are those factors that individuals usually have control over and that other includes those factors in the workplace such as policy that affect workers’ satisfaction.

Work-Life Balance – the Individual Side

  1. The definition of work-life balance is complex an individual. No one formula will work for everyone. Instead of thinking you are the only one who questions whether there is a better way, define what that better way would look like:
    • What would your best life be like?
    • What kind of work life is ideal for you to manage the rest of your life?
    • What kind of home life is what you desire?
    • Even if you have developed a work-life balance formula, is it still working for you particularly if you are in a new stage of life?

    Until you have a concrete definition of what you want, you will feel like you are wandering in the dark looking for something unattainable.

  2. Time management skills contribute to overall life satisfaction. Kevin Green of the University of Minnesota family science department says that these include the ability to identify long and short term goals and to set appropriate priorities. Those goals and priorities can only be established from your own definition of balance – not from comparing yourself to other families or to co-workers.

    • From your answer to question # 1, what are the top three things you need to be doing to put yourself closer to your ideal life?

  3. Some work-life choices are incompatible with balance. For example, a job requiring extensive travel away from home responsibilities make those responsibilities difficult to fulfill. How much is extensive? Dr. Anisa Zvonkovic found a “travel saturation point” averaging more than 46 nights per year away. People with that many travel days found it impossible to clear out the backlog of home and work responsibilities once they returned. In spite of being allowed to take a day off from work after their trips, they often did not feel that they could allow themselves to do so because of the huge work backlog. While people in high traveling occupations yield high financial rewards they soon report feeling that these rewards were offset by the time demands of their jobs.

    • How much travel can you handle and still meet your home responsibilities?
    • Is travel that may have fit your single life still viable at new stages of life, perhaps when you are married with small children?
    • Does your mate travel also? What effect does that have on the family balance?

  4. Stress can spill over from “work to home” and from “home to work.” One summer during college, I worked in a corporate accounting office and found that the office ground to a halt around the time that the school age children got home from their day camps. Conversations went like this: “Well tell him to give your toy back.” “Put her on the phone.” “Just wait until I (or your father) get home.” These women (and they were all women accountants in this corporation) were experiencing the “home to work” stress of having unsupervised children home alone. Their stress levels would have lowered if they (or their spouses) could have had flex time so that a parent was home for the children or if they would have found reliable childcare during those transitions hours between the end of the camp day and the end of the work day.

    However, Dr. Debra Berke and her research colleagues found that academic professionals reported their highest stress was from work spilling over to home. The college faculty and administrators reported worrying about work while trying to fulfill their home responsibilities and therefore not being wholly present to their family members.

    Stopping the stress spillover is often one of changing a mindset rather than of quitting a job. Here is what a participant in a recent work-life balance workshop said in her thank- you note to me:

    “The first day of your workshop featured a true "a-ha!" moment for me--it was the "envision your perfect day" exercise. Something so simple...I realized that really need to concentrate on work AT work, but give all of myself to home when I'm at home. I "knew" this, somewhat, before, but I wasn't practicing it. I'm sure I won't be able to achieve this completely, given my career choice, but at least now I know what ideal I am working toward. That alone gave me peace of mind and renewed peace in my soul!”

    • So one way to stop work to home is to keep work at work and aim at being fully present at home. This may require a transition activity such as making a list of all the loose ends before you walk out of the office.

  5. Balance gets eroded by having no boundaries between home and work. Our constant, simultaneous availability at both home and work via cell phones, computers, and beepers adds to the stress spill over. Dr. Noelle Chesley of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee found that the use of cell phones has increased psychological distress and decreased family satisfaction. However, people who used these devices intermittently with self-imposed restrictions did not suffer from the lowered satisfaction. So unless you are a neurosurgeon waiting for a call about the next head trauma at the emergency room, turn off the cell phone when you are not using it.

Work-Life Balance – the Workplace Side
Institutional factors such as salary scales and family friendly policies influence employees to attain better work-life balance. If we really want to honor parents, we can do two things: insist that workers get paid based on experience, education, talents, and contributions in the workplace and use our influence to examine and improve family friendly policies in our workplaces.

  1. Use your power to examine salary gender differentials. Many of my readers – business owners, professionals, and executives - are in aposition of power to influence the salaries of others who work for them. Have you examined the policies of your company or organization? The US Department of Labor reports that the gender salary differential has increased, from $.76 for every dollar male workers earned last year to $.74 this year.

    • Be a savvy worker by knowing what your industry pays people in your job category. When the time comes for your annual renewal or raise time, bring that data to the meeting. Ask for what your work is worth. Sometimes the only thing between your current salary and the one you deserve is your reluctance to stand up for yourself. While sexism in the workplace accounts for some of this differential, part of the problem is that women are afraid to ask for what their work is worth. When I coach women business owners, they often fail to price their services competitively in the market. Women employees are frequently shocked to find out when they leave a job that a male who replaces them gets a higher salary because he asks for it.

  2. Help your workplace take a look at the family friendly policies in place. Family leave for the birth of a child is a great innovation but it has only a temporary effect on the overall satisfaction of the parents. A more potent variable is the number of hours that workers are obligated to work. The magic tipping point for better work-life balance seems to be the 35 hour work week. When France introduced the 35 hour week in 1998, 60% of employees found it helped them have more ease in combining work and family life. Those who did not have such an improvement complained about the lack of flexibility as their work hours were set by their employers.

    • Rather than move to France you could consider decreasing your hours to 35 hours a week.
    • You might be in a position to help others do the same.

  3. Part time work is a great option for workers but only when it has satisfying work associated with it, in other words, an opportunity to use one’s talents to make a contribution to the organization. Part time work also needs to have comparable benefits so that the option does not include loss of some of the things important to satisfying family life such as accessible health care. Preliminary studies are suggesting that part time work benefits the organization by increasing productivity rather than decreasing it. Happy workers are productive workers.

  4. Organizational culture is another example of how a small change can make a big difference. When the organization makes one’s commitment to family a reason to question the worker’s work ethic, satisfaction goes down and ironically so does engagement in the work. So the individual loses and so does the organization. When organizations value family life by making part time work and flex time available, workers stay engaged in their jobs an d give a return beyond the cost to the organization.

  5. Family friendly organizations do not just benefit parents with children but also workers with eldercare responsibilities. Most people are aware of the research showing that women provide the most eldercare in their families and in the families of their husbands. However, most people are not aware (as Dr. Shelley MacDermid’s research at the Center for Families at Purdue University shows) that the gender difference disappeared for men and women with similar jobs. Sexism in hiring and promotion practices can trap women into lower paying, less autonomous work and so that the work of eldercare falls to the one in the marriage who has the least to lose by missing work days. According to MacDermid, in places where more equal opportunities are available, gender differences drop out: both men and women take care of the elders in the family. Similar differences in meeting parenting responsibilities also fall out when similar job opportunities are available to both genders. Similar, when comparable opportunities are available to both men and women, gender differences in meeting parenting responsibilities narrow or disappear.

Examine your own skills for balancing your personal and professional roles. Support family friendly policies in your workplace.

Susan Robison

See resources cited above. I read the professional journals so you don’t have to.

2. BossWoman coaching

About the publisher: Susan Robison, Ph.D. is a professional coach, speaker, author and seminar leader. She loves to coach women who want improvement in:
  • work-life balance,
  • career transitions,
  • building your business or practice,
  • time management,
  • increasing productivity.

If you are feeling stuck on the way to your ideal life, give Susan a call for a complementary half-hour coaching session.

She provides keynotes and seminars to business and organizations on the topics of:

  • leadership strategies for women,
  • relationships,
  • work-life balance,
  • change.

She offers her audiences a follow-up coaching session because she knows that workshops don’t work.

Contact Susan for your coaching, speaking, or seminar needs at Susan@BossWoman.org or at 410-465-5892.

3. Up and coming workshops

I have booked a number of work/life balance workshops for the winter that are not open to the public.
Contact me if your group needs a speaker on any of the topics listed above.

Title: “Staying Sane in Insane Places: Managing Diverse Faculty Responsibilities with Clarity, Balance and Ease.”
Date: October 25-29, 2006
Place: Professional and Organizational Development Network Conference; Portland, OR

To start receiving the BossWoman e-Newsletter send an email with “Please send BossWoman” in the Subject to: Susan@BossWoman.org.

BossWoman e-Newsletter is intended for informational and educational purposes only. Coaching should not be construed as a form of, or substitute for, counseling, psychotherapy, legal, or financial services.

© Copyright 2006 Susan Robison. All rights reserved. The above material is copyrighted but you may retransmit or distribute it to whomever you wish as long as not a single word is changed, added or deleted, including the contact information. However, you may not copy it to a web site without the publisher’s permission.

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