Balancing Work and Family

Family Facts
You know you're out of balance. But not because you're listing sideways, like in that old vegetable juice commercial, when all it took was the right blend to straighten out your life. Nothing so simple. You feel tired when you wake up. You're beginning to hate your job and resent your family's needs. You grumble to yourself that the workload is all on your shoulders. Sometimes you don't keep it to yourself, but let everyone know, out loud.

Your life is not working out the way you planned.

Welcome to the ranks of the modern-day workforce. According to a 1998 study by the Families and Work Institute in New York, nearly 85 percent of today's employees have day-to-day family responsibilities, and 78 percent of married employees have partners that also work. That's up from 66 percent in 1977. On top of that, today's jobs are more demanding than ever, with the average worker toiling through a 44-hour workweek.

How can you keep up with demands at work and preserve a happy home life? Take control and reestablish balance by setting both short-term and long-term goals. These short-term goals will give you immediate relief. This should create the confidence you need to proceed with a healthier long-term outlook.


Short-term Goals

Too often we find ourselves working in crisis mode, barely surviving one day before diving headlong into the next. So stop the action and start a plan.

  1. Lower your standards
    Really. This is war. If you lose, the casualties will be great—spouse, children, and career. So outfit your camp to run lean and mean. So your kids will pack peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches for a week and you'll wear black two days in a row. Are you all clean and fed? Next.
  2. Family Facts

    One woman I know limits clothing selections to three colors for each family member. For example, her daughter prefers turquoise, fuchsia, and black. These mix-and-match wardrobes cut time spent on decisions on what to wear and what to buy.

  3. Work on your management skills
    You handle multiple tasks at work. Use your planning skills to map out the week in advance both for home and family. This includes weekly menus. Do it Friday night or early Saturday morning, with the week's events still fresh.
  4. Make a priority list
    If you can, try to limit meetings and business travel. If family events aren't near the top of the list, you're out of balance.
  5. Delegate responsibility
    At the office, and at home. Who makes the beds? Does the laundry? Let the kids or spouse lend a hand. (Remember the lower standards? Bite your lip on quality, here.) Order grocery staples on the Internet and buy clothes basics from catalogs or online. At work, hand off routine tasks to an intern or assistant.
  6. Create a family/work calendar.
    Enter all important appointments. Have everyone check it daily, so there are no surprises. Make sure office staff knows of important family appointments beforehand.
  7. Ease the transitions
    Leaving for work and returning home can be great times to cement family relationships and philosophy. Children's top wishes, according to Ellen Galinsky in her book Ask the Children were for parents to be less tired and stressed at the end of the workday.

    To avoid the negative spillover, she suggests two things:

    • Laying out clothes, packing lunches, and readying homework the night before prevents morning panic and stress.

    • Coming home should also be looked at as a time to regroup. Give each family member a chance to talk about their day before launching into dinner and homework. At the very least, show them some affection. My husband never even puts down his laptop before giving us each a kiss. It's instant contact, and we know we're important to him.



Long-term Goals

Think of family first. Treat yourself and family like a small business, or yourfamily.com. To reach your goals, you need to plan where you hope to be in one year, five years, ten years, etc. Start by examining the following:

  • Lifestyle choices
    Are you taking too much on? For example, keeping up with the Jones's puts a lot of pressure on everyone.
  • Learn to say no
    Do you have to attend every Kiwanis club or Junior League meeting, as well as enroll the kids in all activities? Say no to requests for help at school, office, church, town hall, at least until you feel balanced again.
  • Review company policies
    Does your company have flexible work/life programs? Plans to look for are telecommuting, tailored job structuring, flexible project teaming, job sharing, alternate work schedules, compressed workweeks, employee assistance and referral programs, disability return-to-work programs, child-care services, eldercare resources, and catastrophic leave-sharing. If the answer is no to any or all of the above, look for a more family-friendly organization. This should be in your one-year plan.
  • If the answer is yes, these policies may still be new for your company, and not well integrated into management mainstream thinking. One friend with a new baby had enjoyed seven months of telecommuting. The company inexplicably revoked the privilege for some employees, but not for others. She's currently getting to work on Plan B. independent contractor.

  • Independent contractor
    As evidence of the rising numbers of self-employed workers, the Web is now peppered with organizations such as guru.com and freeagent.com, whose primary mission is to service freelancers and independent contractors. You can even find full-service companies that will take care of payroll and set up a 401(k) for your home office. Depending on finances and your expertise, going independent could be a short-term goal.

    Remember that you can't do it all, even though you want to. With planning and the right attitude, you can do what's essential to maintain a happy, healthy family environment. There will always be other jobs. That's not the case with families.


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