The Balancing Act

As an employee retention speaker and employee retention author, the topic of work/life balance always comes up without fail.  This is one of the advantages of being older.  I am able to look back at how it was when my dad worked in corporate America in a leadership role in an automotive company.  Everyone talks about how we drive people harder than we have ever driven people before and that work/life balance has disappeared. Well, when I look back at the “good old days” I can honestly say my dad had no work/life balance back in the 50s, 60’s or 70s.  My old man worked his ass off.  If you were in a leadership or professional role, that is what was expected of you.  He left home early, worked late, went into the office on Saturday’s and sometimes on Sunday.  He often brought “paperwork” home in his briefcase and worked after dinner.  He had no work/life balance.  We also had only one car and one television.

So, in retrospect, he had no work/life balance.  He worked, and my mom stayed home and raised me and my brother.  I can never remember my dad making it to my wrestling matches at all or to my track meets.  Dad worked.  Then when I was in middle school, my mom started working as a teacher in a public school.  So, they both worked.  When mom came home(she didn’t work quite as late as dad) she made dinner and helped us with homework.  When dad got home, she warmed dinner up for him.  I didn’t see mom having a work/life balance except that some of her time was spent “working” helping us kids.  Oh, and the yard work still got done by dad until my brother and I were old enough to do it for dad.

Now, when I look at today’s situation, I remember working in private industry before I went into business for myself.  I left early, worked late, but I ALWAYS would sneak out to watch my son’s wrestle or my daughter play fast pitch softball…ALWAYS…provided I wasn’t traveling but I tried to adjust travel so I could catch their matches or games.  So, I guess not much has changed, oh yeah, that’s right, I traveled a hell of a lot more than dad as companies went international or had plants in multiple locations.  Dad stayed in one place and worked as many hours as I did because the plants were much bigger and in a single location.   I worked my ass off.  The difference was that I had far more flexibility because I could catch up with correspondence via e mail at home in the evening or even when sitting at the matches or games on my handheld device.  Dad sat at the table and did correspondence while mom graded papers from school.

And, my wife worked too.  She was a waitress at night so she could watch the kids when they weren’t in school and then I would take over when she went to work.  We split the homework help because she had to leave for work and I took over.  The duties just shifted a little bit.  We were like ships passing in the night. Hmmmmm…mom and dad got to do paperwork together at the kitchen table at least.  My wife cooked dinner mainly because she is a LOT better cook and I did all the yard work until the kids got old enough to do it.

When this employee retention speaker and employee retention author looks back, there has always been a struggle for work/life balance if you want to be in a professional or leadership role.  Companies aren’t going to pay you big money to enjoy your life.  They pay you to work.  That’s why I believe, work/life balance is about tradeoffs whether you are a man or a woman.  If you want to have a life, you have to give something up and that means the money that comes with a leadership or professional role.  It is really not about balance…it is about choices.  Is that fair, no it’s not but that’s the way it is.  If you want work/life balance, work part-time and live your life but if you want those two SUVs, a nice television or two or three, the ability to take nice vacations and to live in a big house, you better plan to give something up, and that something will probably be work/life balance.

P.S.  It’s 4:30 AM when I am writing this blog because I have to hit the road at 8 AM for a speaking event.  I will see my wife off to work, get in the car and drive 5 hours to my event and then drive 5 hours home.  My wife will cook her own dinner after work and I will eat on the road.  I will get back home at about 7 PM.  That’s a 14-hour day.  You have to love that work/life balance!

Jeff Kortes

jeff@humanassetmgt.com

Jeff speaks and conducts workshops regularly in Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Indiana. He draws on his experiences as a human resources professional, father, coach, martial artist and U.S. Army veteran to provide thought-provoking programs that yield results.