Mastering Your Work-Life Equation
Laura Lee Frazier, SHRM-CP
Last year our middle son overdosed on drugs at school. I was sitting in my office preparing for another meeting that promised to run well into the evening hours when the high school principal called and told me an ambulance was rushing my 15 year old son to the hospital. My response was, “Carson? He’s not on drugs.”
No one in our family had ever had a drug or alcohol problem, so we had no precedent for dealing with that sort of thing. We had done all the “right” things: moved my mother in so the children wouldn’t be latch-key kids, made sure a hot dinner was on the table every night, enrolled them in the best schools, sent money for class parties and extracurricular activities, provided a beautiful home in an upscale neighborhood- we even attended church! As an HR professional who was accustomed to having all of the answers, suddenly I had none. Sitting in the emergency room I kept thinking over and over, “How did I not know my child was addicted to drugs?”
The Work-Life Equation is notoriously tricky. There is no shortage of well-meaning articles defining it and telling all of us how to achieve it. Trust me, I had read most of them by that point, and most certainly after.
In my haste to prove to the world that a mother with three children could make it in the professional world, I somehow had tipped the scales and upset the balance. As Dolly Parton put it, I got so busy making a living that I forgot to make a life.
Leaving you in suspense is not my intent, so I’ll go ahead and tell you how it ends. Our son recovered and went to a rehabilitation program. He’s back on the A and B honor roll as a junior in high school and is quite the star on the varsity debate team. He’s a still a teenager- and will always be my “wild card”- but he has recovered and is moving forward.
Once we made it through the immediate crisis, my husband and I realized that we needed to drastically reevaluate. Through trial and error, I can finally, wholeheartedly, say that we have mastered OUR Work-Life Equation by embracing the following strategies.
Take Care of the Rocks | Everyone has heard the story about the professor who brings a jar, rocks, pebbles, and sand into his class. (You haven’t? Here’s a link to a short video recap: https://youtu.be/v5ZvL4as2y0 )
At the end of every month we sit down as a family and write every important event that occurs during the following month on our calendar. My family tells me which ones are most important to them, and we highlight them. I still try to make the events that are not highlighted, but this way I know which ones are non-negotiable. Those are my rocks. After that is completed, my pebbles (work) and sand (extras) get filled in.
Don’t Just Talk About It, Be About It | Please don’t misunderstand me- it is absolutely crucial that you talk about it. How will people know what matters to you if you don’t talk about it? Even more important than talking about it, however, is walking that walk. Let your team know that you support them in their quest to achieve that balance, too. Leadership is holistic, after all. Show them how to take care of THEIR rocks and encourage them to disconnect and enjoy their time off.
On the flip side, it’s never comfortable telling your boss that you just can’t make that meeting that was hastily thrown on the schedule yesterday because little Bobby is playing tuba at a junior high pep-rally. Aside from making your schedule as transparent as possible (I block off those highlighted “rock” items on my Outlook calendar at work at the beginning of the month), the best philosophy in situations like these is to respectfully tell him or her that it’s not negotiable.
Embrace New Traditions | Recently Harvard Business review had an interesting article titled How Our Careers Affect Our Children (Read it here: https://hbr.org/2018/11/how-our-careers-affect-our-children ). It details a study from about two decades ago that surveyed approximately 900 business professionals across an array of industries to explore the relationship between work and family life.
In the article author Stewart D. Friedman makes an interesting statement. He says, “For both mothers and fathers, we found that children’s emotional health was higher when parents believed that family should come first, regardless of the amount of time they spent working.”
One of the ways that my family has committed to “family first” is by establishing a new tradition. My children know that every Monday- Thursday we will sit down together at the dinner table and play a board (or card) game while sharing a meal. It’s non-negotiable, and I can only recall a handful of times we haven’t made it happen due to extenuating circumstances. Sure, it’s only an hour out of our day four days a week, but it’s a commitment. The interesting side effect of this commitment is that my teenage sons actually LOVE it. They wouldn’t tell you that, but if they come down for dinner and don’t see a game out on the table they immediately ask, “Are we not playing a game?” and offer to set one up for us.
The other benefit is that it promotes conversation. Anyone who has teenagers knows that when you ask them how their day was, they respond, “fine.” For some reason if you ask them that same question while in the throes of a competitive board game you’ll get all kinds of great answers. It’s truly amazing.
While I have no desire to relive the events of Spring 2018, I have to admit that they provided a very valuable lesson. The Work-Life Equation is just that. An equation. Different variables in the equation will provide different outcomes. What works for some may not work for others. My challenge is for each of you to evaluate your personal work-life equation and test out the variables that are right for you. Maybe it’s a new commitment to family. It could be a renewed focus on your personal health. After all, you can’t do a good job if your job is all you do.