I’ve been thinking a lot again about work/life balance because of Working Mother magazine. A recent issue profiled an MD, a supervisor and a high-power executive at a tech company about their work-life struggles. In general all their articles profile women in higher-income brackets, probably due to the demographics of their readers and the general assumption is that if these women can do it, people with more regular schedules can, too.
While I enjoy reading about these high-powered women and also about freelance WOHM moms, I feel that the majority of media ignores those truly in the middle-class (and lower middle-class). We don’t enjoy the kind of flexibility that higher-powered women enjoy and we can’t delegate away chores like those with financial advantages.
At my company, those in manager positions and above enjoy a higher autonomy. They don’t have to ask permission to work from home. They also have the money for nanny and cleaning help, something that my household has paid for but at a great sacrifice (and only temporarily). They can still enjoy many luxuries like massages, travel and dining out. True, they have greater responsibilities, too, and they’ve earned it. But their solutions often aren’t applicable to those those in lower income brackets. In other words, they can buy some balance while many people don’t have that same privilege.
That’s why I’m sharing my thoughts now, as a non-manager making a middle-class salary in a high cost of living area. Like many average working people, I don’t enjoy the flexibility of working from home or part-time hours, both of which I truly crave, so I make the best of my situation. Before I delve into my tips, I must say that we manage OK because my husband does have a flexible schedule and we have nearby parental help. The third part of the equation is flexibility at work, something that is within my control to a degree.
- Earn Your Stripes: What do I mean by this? I mean that before having kids, you should build a solid work reputation and prove your value to your boss, so that he/she trusts you to do your job without constant monitoring. If your boss values you, there is a greater forgiveness factor when you have kids and your finely balanced life is thrown off-kilter. There’s a chance that you’ll manage to keep your career almost on track or entirely on track if you’re a true superstar and that you’ll still get just enough family time to keep sane and happy. I have managed to “earn my stripes” so to speak at my current company and with my current boss. Although I am sure that he’s not happy about my increased absences, he and my co-workers have been super supportive because I still finish my projects on-time. Plus, I have a reputation for being efficient, productive and supportive of others.
- Learn to read your boss: Every boss is different. I’ve had bosses who valued creativity; one who valued initiative; another that valued anticipating his/her needs. If you can make yourself invaluable in ways that matter most to your boss, you’ll be more appreciated. This sounds like simple advice but I’ve seen many employees who focus mostly on what they want to do, without thinking about company goals or what makes their boss’s life easier.
- Take certain projects off your boss’s plate: With Tip #2 in mind, If you have a strong skill where your boss is lacking, try taking that project off his/her plate. For example if your boss hates to write, offer to do more writing-related projects. Same for reporting or spreadsheets or presentations. Ideally your strengths are his/her weaknesses.
- Take longer lunches: Because I’m a trusted team member, my boss doesn’t watch my comings and goings like a hawk. I appreciate this and I don’t take advantage. On most days, I actually take shorter lunches and when it’s super busy, I eat at my desk. However, if it’s a slow day, I can run errands and eat lunch in a little over an hour. Having that flexibility to get bigger chores out of the way allows me to have more free time during non-work hours.
- Just plain dumb luck: You can work really hard but your boss just thinks that everyone is a robot and can put in 110% with no risk of burn-out. I’ve been fortunate to have many good bosses. I’ve also been “fortunate” that for various reasons, my co-workers have had work/balance issues, too, so that the spotlight isn’t on me, the dreaded working mom of young kids (!).
I’m glad that I have this flexibility and while my life often feels unbalanced, this flexibility allows me to plow forward and enjoy parenthood without guilt.
Here are more interesting thoughts on the work/life balance:
Laura Vanderkam wrote a book about time management and while I haven’t read it, I was struck by the negative reviews on Amazon.com — basically her advice was mostly applicable to those with money and only certain types of careers like writing: http://www.amazon.com/168-Hours-Have-More-Think/dp/B0043RT8EU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1329869680&sr=8-1
How do you manage the work/life balance? Do you have flexibility? I’m especially curious to hear from those in non-management level jobs who don’t have the funds to delegate away chores and errands!