Mr. Flexibility :: Finding Work-Life Balance

by derek on July 11, 2007 · 27 comments

The next generation of super-hero should include Mr. Flexibility – he is a devoted and reliable employee but has the rare talent of being able to balance the demands of his job with the needs of his family.
In all honesty, there are times when it does feel like a Dad must be a super-hero to successfully find the balance between work and family. As a Dad that has had some success (as well as some failures) with my work-life balance, I was eager to join Wendy Piersall with her group research project to explore how Dads can balance work and home life.
Flexibility Is Critical
In order to find a happy and healthy work-life balance, you are going to need a good deal of flexibility in your life – on the part of your employer, your family and yourself.
I’ve been very fortunate in that my employer recognizes the importance of work-life balance and has allowed me to be very flexible. When I first started with my current employer, I negotiated for a flexible schedule – one where I work four 10-hour days per week. This works quite well as I have a long commute to work and the longer days allow me to miss much of the rush-hour traffic.
In addition, my boss is comfortable with allowing me to work from home as needed. She has always expressed that she is willing to be flexible with her employees as long as the work gets done on time and is still at the level of quality she expects. While I don’t take advantage of this too often, the flexibility that this provides is very beneficial to my work-life balance.
Clearly some of these aspects are easier to control than others, which is why it is important to understand that you are unlikely to find the perfect work-life balance.
Define Expectations
Since it is nearly impossible to find the perfect work-life balance, you need to make an effort to define the expectations that others have of you.
If your wife and kids expect you to attend every practice, game, recital or whatever the event may be, you are going to have a hard time meeting those expectations. Likewise, you can make an effort to define the expectations that your employer may have to do your best to avoid scheduling conflicts between the demands at work and home.
As an example, my son just recently completed his summer Little League season and he had quite a few games during the week. It was important to me to attend every one of his games and I think it was equally important to him as well even if he didn’t say so.
With the schedule of games for the entire season in hand, I talked with my boss and arranged my schedule to leave a little earlier on the days my son had a game and stay a little later on days he did not have a game. There were a few games where I arrived after the game had started but he knew I was on my way. The best part was that I didn’t miss the two unassisted double plays he made – or the unforgettable smile on his face (as well as mine)!
Prepare For Exhaustion
Nobody said that finding a work-life balance was going to be easy! Depending on how many things you are trying to juggle, you should be prepared for periods of exhaustion.
For the first four months of this year, I was working a considerable amount of overtime every week as a project deadline was quickly approaching. To make matters worse, I thought that would be a good time to go ahead and start this blog while also maintaining my personal finance blog. Along with these work demands, my family was still here needing my time and attention as a Dad and husband.
This was a very difficult time for me to try and maintain any semblance of balance. Something that I found to work quite well for me was to put in my normal time at work and then come home to my family. We would have some time together each night before the kids had to go to bed that was free from work. Once everyone was in bed for the night, I would stay up late and work on my blogs or connect to my office computer and do some more work.
The advantage to this approach is that you do not take away from the time with your family but it comes with the sacrifice of your own sleep. I’m a night-owl so I thrive during the wee hours of the morning, although it was difficult to get up at 4:30am for work after only a few hours of sleep. Clearly this is not a long-term solution but there will be times where you will have to battle through to avoid losing time with your family.
Work-Life Tips To Try Right Now
Now that you have read about the importance of defining expectations, having flexibility and preparing for exhaustion, I want to provide you with a few tips that you may be able to try as you work on your own balance.

  • Use your calendar at work to schedule your personal commitments. You don’t necessarily have to provide details but if you block out the time from 5:00pm to 6:30pm with a meeting (e.g. your son’s ballgame), your co-workers will see you are booked when they try to schedule a late meeting. If the meeting is truly critical, they will likely ask if you can adjust your other meeting. But to be honest with you, I’ve attended enough meetings to know that not many of them are all that critical. 🙂
  • Talk to your boss about your concerns regarding your work-life balance. As I mentioned earlier, I am very fortunate to have an employer and boss that are quite flexible with my schedule and I understand that is not feasible for everyone. However, sometimes you do not know that you may have the flexibility until you have asked for it. When I started with my current employer, they didn’t offer me the flexible schedule – I had to request it.
  • Spend time with your wife and kids every day. Sometimes it is not possible to be with them physically so give them a phone call when that happens. They’ll know that you are thinking about them and they are important enough for you to take a few minutes to talk to them. One of my personal goals is to always make it home in time to wrestle around with the kids a little bit and talk to them about their day before I read them their bedtime story. There are days that cannot happen but I give them a call to ask about their day and tell them I miss them and will give them a kiss when I get home.
  • Mistakes are acceptable. As you struggle to find your own work-life balance, it is important to remember that you will make mistakes and there is nothing wrong with that. Referring back to my hectic schedule earlier this year, I made the mistake of expecting my wife to take care of everything at home. My wife approached me with her concerns and I realized that I needed to make an effort to be a better husband – and we are both happier since I made (and have been working on resolving) this mistake.

Find Your Balance
While I’ve only scratched the surface of what it requires to find your own work-life balance, I hope you are able to use some of this information for the benefit of yourself and your family.
It can be difficult as a Dad in the workplace to put your family ahead of work. You may face ridicule or questioning from your peers or you may have to fight even harder for that promotion. Along the way you are likely to make a few mistakes as well.
Unfortunately many Dads, including myself, make most of the mistakes on the life side of the work-life balance as the thought is that your job is too important to risk. As a Dad, try not to lose sight of the fact that mistakes on the life side can cause a considerable amount of hurt as well and that is definitely too important to risk.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Erik Karey July 11, 2007 at 4:08 pm

It’s hard to find a balance because you want to succeed in both work and family life. One thing that you pointed out is to always make time for family everyday, even if it’s not as long as you would want. Great post Derek.


Gideon July 11, 2007 at 4:49 pm

The balance is a tough one because as a dad we want to give our kids maximum emotional support (being there) and maximum economic support (not being there!) it’s so easy to think that economics are all important – especially if you’ve ever really struggled financially. Thank you for writing about this.
PS I came to your post via eMoms!


Leo July 11, 2007 at 8:31 pm

Wait a minute! Wait a minute!
Your boss is a SHE!?!
I see a sad trend here, Derek 😉


derek July 11, 2007 at 10:23 pm

@Erik :: Thanks for the feedback!
@Gideon :: My wife has been a stay-at-home mom since our kids were born and that has added more difficulty to my ability to find balance at times because I have stressed about my job more. Thanks for stopping by from eMoms and sharing your thoughts!
@Leo :: Yep, my boss is a woman and until recently her boss was a woman as well. 🙂


Angie July 12, 2007 at 12:41 am

This article is so timely for our society. There are so many more pressing demands on our time and attention and if you cannot balance your life, you lose your wits. My marriage went poof for such reasons. My ex seems a whole lot more relaxed now that he is not a husband and only has to br a parent every other weekend. Of course, there is now a whole lot more pressure on me as a single mom.


derek July 12, 2007 at 12:48 am

Angie, thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts! Sorry to hear about your marriage and I wish you nothing but the best as you do your best at being a single mom.


Chris Gray July 13, 2007 at 4:14 pm

Derek, what a great post! I couldn’t agree more. Letting your kids know you are there for them is so important (especial through your actions). Taking them with you on a jog or playing their favorite board game can make the biggest difference. Even though it may seem like that much, I believe your actions speak the world to your children.
One thing that I have also found is that a Work/Life balance is an ever changing thing. There is no hard and fast “method to success” and I find myself constantly adjusting (as you have done by requesting an alternative schedule at work). It always a balancing act…but in my opinion, it all comes down to doing the best you can at that moment in time.


derek July 13, 2007 at 4:42 pm

Chris, I agree whole-heartedly! Something that my kids love to do is come down into the basement with me and lift weights and hit the heavy bag. Not only does this give us some great time together but it is instilling the habit of exercise in their lives.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


Chris Gray July 13, 2007 at 4:30 pm

Oops, meant to say:
Even though it may not seem like that much, I believe your actions speak the world to your children.


Sarah August 17, 2007 at 3:56 pm

Great Post! Sometimes it’s nearly impossible to be everything to everyone, but it sounds like you put forth a pretty good effort.


derek August 17, 2007 at 5:45 pm

Thanks, I try my best. 🙂


Girish@Car Rental Auckland October 26, 2009 at 4:13 am

Derek, Nowadays its hard to find flexible work schedules. Employers always brag about their work timings and flexible schedule. But once you get into the house the system will eat you up and you will be forced to stay for long hours. Nothing can be done. I am victim of it personally and I miss my family and friends very much. I could not spend quality time with them and going forward I am afraid that I don’t get to see them anymore if i continue in the same schedule. Its pathetic and I don’t want to sound pessimistic. But this is what prevailing in most of the families whose bread winner is into IT and other similar jobs.
.-= Girish@Car Rental Auckland´s last blog ..Rugby World Cup Car Rentals =-.


Johnnie@Auto Insurance June 19, 2008 at 7:29 pm

I can only imagine how hard it is for fathers these days to find time to spend with there family. The main reason men chose their work over their family is because in order to keep the lifestyle they are accustomed to, a certain amount of work must be dome. It’s really not fair for the children, but that’s just the way it is with alot of modern families.


Jobs with School Hours by Leigh August 22, 2012 at 9:35 pm

As as working dad here in Australia, work flexibility is really important for me. I decided to quit my job in one of the marketing companies here. I started to be working homebase through some online jobs. And so glad that I got the benefit of have a flexible working hour. This mean, I have the time to be with my children and wife too. And just having the convenience too. Great piece of work here!


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