I know I’ve done it several times, and I’ll bet you have too. Imagine this scenario: your son or daughter has an important event you would like to be at, whether it is soccer practice, a ballet recital, or some other activity that is important to you – and them! – that you be present for. One nasty bit of reality sinks in however – you will need to leave work at least 15 minutes early in order to be there on time. You know this will be part of building a healthy connection between yourself and your child, and perhaps even deepening the sense of trust you have with your spouse (he said he would be here on time, but I’ll be really upset if he fails to live up to his promise again). So what do you do?
There are some assumptions about our culture and attitudes that employers have toward family life that are very revealing. How would you respond to the above scenario? Many would follow a relatively common practice in workplaces today, sneaking out a few minutes early in order to get there on time. Obviously, this is easier at some times than others and runs the risk of upsetting one’s manager or supervisor. Why choose this option? It has the best chance of increasing odds that you can get to the function on time, while reducing the likelihood of being sternly advised that no early departures are permitted from work and avoiding one’s employer questioning the commitment to his/her employment.
I find it very interesting that we still do not largely live in a society where flexible times with work are common and accepted by management. Though it could easily be argued that we have transcended the time where a typical employee was a suit and tie-wearing “company man”, and where devotion to the greater good of the company was of the highest importance, neither have we come to a place where family obligations can be fearlessly balanced with work obligations. It’s like we have a need to hide our family’s presence from our workplace on a certain level; not concealing them totally (who doesn’t like to have a picture or two of family on their desk?), but in denying their needs can in any way appear to have more importance than the needs of the workplace. If any of us were caught attempting to flex the clear time boundaries of the workday, would we appear to be less devoted employees and sabotage any chance of promotion?
Modern technology means that in part, the workplace is now more accessible to us than ever. This is a double-edged sword, as client and consumer needs can now be looked after immediately, rather than always waiting until the next day’s business hours. However, it also means that at times, work expectations can move into what is more traditionally considered “family time” hours. Is this an acceptable trend for you, personally? Everyone has their own answer, and I am well aware that as a professional running a private practice, sometimes the flexibility to answer emails and phone calls during evening hours can have a positive impact for clients. There is no turning back technology, nor the acknowledgement that people’s needs do not necessarily follow “business hours”.
In essence, my own sense is that most people are reasonably accepting of the “round-the-clock” workplace IF there is an accompanying degree of flexibility during the traditional business hours. A colleague of mine has written an outstanding column about what a modern healthy workday looks like for him, allowing him to honour his need for a strong degree of productivity at the office, while allowing flexibility to spend important afterschool hours with his family. It might be one example to consider if you are looking to bring a healthier degree of balance to your life. Being free for important hours when your spouse and children long for your presence, while being as productive at work as possible, may be key steps in creating a healthy, happy family life where everyone’s needs get met. Including your own. So, what might it take to make it easier for this to happen for you?