ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - August 2000
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Issue Highlight - Homeward Bound
--- Peter Block offers some practical reccomendations about how to create balance and harmony in your life.
     "
These recommendations are guaranteed to work or your time back."

In This Issue...
The Economics of Choice
Children: A Blessing or a Lucky Taxbreak
Welcome to the Wild West
The Struggle to Have It All


Features...
Peter Block Column
Interviews
Day In The Life Stories
Views for a Change

Pageturners
Heard on the Street
Letters to the Editor


Welcome to the Wild West
The Challenges Faced when Balancing Work and Life Can Sometimes Feel Like a Wild West Shoot-Out

-- 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 percent).

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 schedules."
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 work."

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 7).

  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 Homepage

 

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