The Economics of Choice
Children: A Blessing or a Lucky
Welcome to the Wild
The Struggle to Have It
Day In The Life
Views for a
Letters to the
Welcome to the Wild West
The Challenges Faced when Balancing Work and
Life Can Sometimes Feel Like a Wild West
-- In more than one cowboy
film, a gun-toting, black-hatted stagecoach robber snarls
at his hapless victims: "Yer money or yer life!" Things
have changed a lot since those days, to be sure, but the
stress induced by such choices lingers: Workers today
often feel forced into either/or choices. "Do I live to
work or work to live?"
Balancing priorities often means making tough
choices. From people starting new businesses, like Pat
Mucci ( see page 9), to well-known performers like singer
John McCutcheon (see page 7), it's a matter of deciding
what's truly important.
No Time to Play
In 1991 economist Juliet Schor
described The Overworked American. She found that people
had one-third less leisure time than 20 years earlier.
"Predictably, they are spending less time on the basics
like sleeping and eating. Parents are devoting less
attention to their children. Stress is on the rise,
partly owing to the 'balancing act' of reconciling the
demands of work and family life."
More recently the Families and Work Institute
reasserted these issues in a 1998 study. Ellen Galinsky,
Institute president and co-author of the study, said, "We
now better understand how work affects life off the job,
and how that in turn affects people's work. Demanding and
hectic jobs lead to negative spillover into workers'
personal lives, jeopardizing their personal and family
well-being. And when workers feel burned out by their
jobs, when they don't have the time and energy for their
families, these feelings spill back into the workplace,
reducing job performance." The study, modeled on one by
the U.S. Labor Department in 1977, demonstrated that
today's employees work 44 hours per week, an increase of
3.5 hours from the earlier study.
Not Enough Time in the Day
It's hard to find a worker without day-to-day
personal and family responsibilities. A lot of people
work a "second shift," coming home to another round of
tasks with children, aging parents and housekeeping. It's
stressful, although today those tasks seem to be
increasingly shared: The Families and Work Institute's
study found that men spend an hour more on household
chores per workday (2.1 vs. 1.1 in 1977), while women's
tasks have been reduced by a half-hour (2.9 hours daily,
down from 3.4 in 1977). But everyone has less personal
time today than 20 years ago: Men report 1.6 hours per
workday, while women have 1.3.
Workers may have more choices because more
companies today offer "family-friendly" benefits-often
referred to as "life/work"-although a glaring minority of
workers in the Institute's study yet have access to
dependent-care benefits such as information and referrals
for childcare (20 percent) and elder care (25 percent),
child care services (11 percent) or assistance (13
percent) and dependent-care assistance (29
The Right Idea
Lists such as Working Mother's "100 Best
Companies for Working Mothers" or Fortune's "100 Best
Companies to Work For" suggest many companies are
improving. The ideas and models are certainly there. When
Working Mother announced its latest list, it cited the
common element of flexibility. "Every single company on
our list," wrote project editor Catherine Cartwright,
"offers at least one alternative work option-flextime-and
the vast majority offer others (such as telecommuting and
job sharing) as well... More and more companies are
training managers on how to implement alternative work
Robert Levering and Milton Moskowitz in Fortune (Jan. 10,
2000) said the best companies "adjust schedules to suit
family obligations." That kind of flexibility made it
possible for Pat Mucci to keep her job while helping her
husband open a new restaurant.
In many cases, money isn't everything: "The big
story," wrote Levering and Moskowitz, "is that these
companies are trying to help employees balance their home
and work lives. More and more companies offer perks such
as flexible schedules and day care. In 1984, when the two
of us first published the list as a best-selling book,
only one company had on-site daycare. Today 29 do."
There's no shortage of advice available: Betty
Holcomb offers solace in "Not Guilty! The Good News about
Working Mothers," and James A. Levine addresses "Working
Fathers: New Strategies for Balancing Work and Family."
Ellen Bravo's "9 to 5 Guide, The Job/Family Challenge:
Not For Women Only" provides practical advice for workers
about negotiating family leaves and flexible schedules,
finding dependable childcare or elder care, sharing work
at home, or even changing corporate and public policies.
But as musician McCutcheon warns, "The overriding issue
is not just a cornucopia of programs and benefits. It is
attitudes and how you relate to the people with which you
Clear a Path
Perhaps the best advice about balancing the
demands of work and life comes from leadership consultant
Stephen Covey. In his 1989 bestseller, "The Seven Habits
of Highly Effective People," Covey recommended
identifying a personal mission statement to provide a
clear path to follow, establishing a foundation for
choices. He suggests we each play many roles-worker,
parent, child, friend, volunteer and so on-and we must
determine how to live out each role.
In his insightful follow-up to "The Seven Habits,"
Covey explored more deeply his concept of "First Things
First," co-authored with A. Roger Merrill and Rebecca R.
Merrill, an overt study of managing time, but ultimately
a philosophical treatise about setting priorities in our
lives. Balance, he says, is a "true north" principle.
Covey cites an ancient teaching that "because you
understand one" it's easy to think "you must understand
two, because one and one makes two. But you must also
understand and." Which is why Sue Hay may feel like
stamping her priorities on her forehead (see page
Balance in our lives, according to Covey, can't be
based on being torn between roles and responsibilities,
such as job and personal or family commitments. "It's a
dynamic equilibrium. It's all the parts working
synergistically in a highly interrelated whole. Balance
isn't 'either/or' - it's 'and.'"
The dilemma boils down to a matter of choice. From
an economic standpoint, choice is an operative condition.
We choose how we want to lead our lives, and we choose to
chase money or climb the corporate ladder, or read a
story to our child, or just chat over the back fence with
a neighbor who most likely faces the same choices we do.
Or perhaps this rush to reclaim our lives is simply
promoted by the media. Perhaps we are as content and
happy as we need or want to be. After all, as the old
adage goes, the quickest way to make yourself unhappy is
to wonder if you are as happy as you should be.
Regardless, as today's workers sort out their
roles-individually, within a family, in teams and in
organizations-and discover how they are synergistically
linked through Covey's "and," they must seek to create a
balance between work and life. None of us need a bad guy
with a six-shooter to convince us of that.
August 2000 NFC