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Balancing Work and Family Pressures

Today's Executives Are Learning That Taking More Time From Work For Family Togetherness and Parenting Chores Leads To More, Not Less, Productivity and Satisfaction

by Robert Moskowitz

No one denies that holding onto a job, or a company, in today's competitive climate requires massive amounts of time and effort. But you're not alone if you feel a steady, nagging sensation that you're missing a lot of the important interactions you should be having at home with your family.

The issue of balancing work and family time is far more prevalent than anyone admits. At least a third of the respondents to recent surveys, for example, say they want a better work/family balance in their life, and that finding a good balance is a high priority in their selection of jobs. An equal number say they would change jobs if it would help them obtain a better balance.

But such feelings are not often talked about openly, particularly by men.

Among the thousands of executives who have successfully redressed the balance between their work and family responsibilities, it's common to hear that they began the change when they noticed their children no longer responded to them, or they were no longer living the life they wanted.

But generic unhappiness in your present situation is probably not enough to prompt an improvement if you also feel powerless to change because the demands of work are too great, or because you are unwilling to pull back from responsibilities or cut down on the "face time" you give to the office.

In fact, some who complain the loudest about being locked into their job responsibilities secretly enjoy the rush of adrenalin generated when pressure to perform mounts up.

Most executives who have made changes in their working schedule to feel better about their family/work balance counsel that "things don't change until you feel enough pain." In fact, too much work can create personal problems in one's personal life -- problems that can easily bounce back to harm both family life, and on-the-job effectiveness.

Long-term, probably the best response to excessive pressures to work long hours is to try to impact the structural factors that create the imbalance: organizational policies, lifestyle choices, even day-to-day job activities. "It's not a question of changing everything all at once," says a researcher who works frequently with senior-level management of large organizations. "It's more a matter of incremental decision-making to improve things bit by bit."

In the short-term, you can shift the balance more toward your family by using tried-and-true time management techniques, such as: concentrating on top priority responsibilities, delegating more often, avoiding time-wasting meetings and phone calls, limiting out-of-town travel, and intentionally giving a higher priority to family activities, events, and responsibilities.

You can also mark your family responsibilities on your calendar and treat them with as much importance as job-related appointments. It's worthwhile to use your planning abilities to re-balance your day so you have enough time to experience your children and enjoy the fruits of your labors.

One good trick is simply to take an afternoon off and see how well the organization survives without you. Despite your worst fears, the chances are good that things will go fairly well in your absence. Over several months, you can take a few mornings and a few afternoons off at random. Slowly, you'll gain the confidence to systematically spend a little less time in the office, leaving more time and energy for family matters.

Here are some warning signs that work and family pressures may be out of balance in your own life:

Practical Signs: You can't attend to child care emergencies. You rarely see your family any more. You don't have time for family responsibilities that are important to you. Your spouse gives you an ultimatum. You feel tired when you wake up, and rarely relish another day of work.

Emotional Signs: Your life is not working the way you want it to. You feel you are working too hard for too little reward. You're emotionally drained at the end of the day. You're in a bad humor too often, or you feel resentment toward your job or your responsibilities. You suddenly notice you haven't enjoyed yourself for a long time, or you can't forget a dream where your life is wildly out of kilter. In extreme cases, you may get frequent migraines, rashes, or other stress-related illnesses.

Surprisingly, the actual results of rebalancing work and family responsibilities in favor of the family are the opposite of what the modern business culture tries to teach. Most people don't see their performance level at work start to nosedive. Nor do they lose out on promotions or other rewards. Most people, in fact, feel a much higher level of loyalty to the company that respects the need to balance work and family pressures. In many cases, employees with a better work/family balance exhibit a higher energy level and a greater effort to concentrate on what's most important on the job. This, in turn, helps them produce results at the same, or higher levels  than before.

As for people who take temporary parental leaves, the vast majority of them return to work when it's over and remain with the same employer for many more years.

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