Saturday, January 26, 2013

Work-Life Balance

One the toughest challenge for many people in their careers today is finding a way to strike a healthy balance between their life at work and their life at home.  My career field of engineering is heavily marked by its consultant-style of work.  We're hired by clients like a City or State DOT that have high expectations and sometimes unreasonable demands. On the consultant side, you either make them happy so they hire you again or you "disappoint" them and you lose a source of future revenue.  Everything tends to work out well the majority of the time, but there are plenty of cases where life can get... challenging.

Now that Andy and I are raising Dominic, my world has an entirely new perspective.  Like any good parent, I want to spend time with my child.  With Dominic's daily schedule, his primary awake hours are from 7am to 7pm.  If I work past 6pm any night, that means I'd miss his entire 12-hour block of time.  When thinking about the long-term, the idea of working late can impact many other things as well.  The thought of sporting events, concerts, after-school functions, and much more that are important to Dominic are all times where I want to be there to support him.  I know we've all seen those movies or TV shows with the workaholic parent that always lets their down kid by not making it to the big game.  My workplace, like many others, highlights the people that go above and beyond to get the job done.

Oh, you worked 55 hours this week?  That's great, but did you hear what Joe did?  He worked 80 hours, skipped his kid's 5th birthday party, cancelled the family vacation, and lived in the office for 3 days to get the job done.

If you're Joe, you might have just done something great for your career.  If you're not Joe, you might feel a nagging pressure to do more.

My goal is to be on the opposite end of that spectrum where my children can depend on me to be there for them.  Of course, what does that mean in regards to work-life balance and developing a career?

A great thing about my company is that it supports young professionals.  I've worked with the program for several years now taking part as an individual, local lead, and national lead.  Last fall, we were at a weekend event where the Presidents of our company had a Q&A session.  At one point, someone asked how they handled their work-life balance.  Their responses were unexpectedly honest.  One of them hadn't spent a night at home in 3 weeks because he had been traveling all over the country and to Australia.  The other elaborated and told a story about how work-life balance was all about making choices.  Earlier in his career he had a major interview to win a big project.  However, his son had a minor surgery scheduled for the same day.  His choice was to go to the interview.

To me, work-life balance isn't something that can be attained with a single decision.  It's an ongoing series of choices.

  • Do I leave work after just 8 hours today?
  • Do I work 40 hours or 50 hours this week?
  • Do I stay at work another 90 minutes or do I go to the gym tonight?
  • My child has a pediatrician appointment.  Should I take off time for it?
  • This project has a deadline and needs 3 hours of work, but it's already 4pm.  Do I stay late?

In the past, answers to these questions were much simpler.  I could work a little late, and Andy could easily flex his schedule for a later dinner.  These days, a small change is a much bigger deal with factors to account for like picking Dominic up from day care.  Additionally, we hope to adopt another child in the future which will add another layer to the work-life balance puzzle.

After being back in the office for a month, it's been a big shift.  I've consciously made the choice not to work a lot of extra hours so that I could come home to Dominic and Andy each night.  In a way, I tried to set the expectation at work that my family comes first and I wasn't going to immediately work late every time it was needed.  It's been tough as many of my work friends are overloaded and putting in extra hours themselves.  However, this is the choice I have been making that is in the best interest of my family.  Up to now, my work-life balance has been fairly stable.  In the future, that could easily change.  Monday will bring another work day and more choices to be made.

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