Our greatest happiness does not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed us, but is always the result of a good conscience, good health, occupation, and freedom in all just pursuits. ~ Thomas Jefferson
As I wrote previously, allowing for flexible work schedules at your organization is a great way to support a corporate wellness program, provided that is, you have a mission-driven culture. (For those of you wanting to catch up see here and here). More than anything else, despite the constraints posed by our industry, what led me to this thinking has been my experience as a parent.
You may be aware my wife’s career requires weekly travel during the school year, and from the time our son was a toddler, I’ve often had the opportunity to take care of him by myself. Although my wife has justifiably taken issue with some of my parenting methods, the experience has not only been totally awesome, but has resulted in parenting breakthroughs I’ll be sure to discuss in my response to Sheryl Sandberg’s book, a book I’ve tentatively titled:
Lean Out: Men, Work, and the Will to Chill.
In addition to getting time with my son that I wouldn’t trade for anything, the part-time single parent experience has given me perspective (and therefore much respect) on how hard it is to keep your shit together if you juggle a full-time job and take care of the kids.
Considering the resources I have at my disposal, and the fact that my wife is usually only gone three days a week, compared to most single parents, I have it easy. Indeed, as I think back on my own experiences, I really don’t know how full-time single parents do it.
Clearly though, as the plot below shows, plenty do. In 2015 for example, representing 26.8 percent of the total, a staggering 19.8 million children under the age of 18 were living in homes headed up by single parents. (source)
For those of you receiving this post via email, consider looking at it on the website so the graphs display with interactive data.
Even for families with two parents, as Cornell University’s Marin Clarkberg makes clear, it’s apparent American families are squeezed for time and becoming increasingly harried. Why do we feel so rushed? Clarkberg poses and explores three possible hypotheses in her study:
- We’re working more hours.
- We’re both working (i.e., no stay-at-home parent).
- We’re working more than we’d like to.
I’ll leave it to you to read her full analysis, since it’s relevant to the topic at hand, but let me share her conclusion:
The growing commitment to employment in American families does not simply reflect a growing taste for employment or an underlying desire for long hours on the job. Our analyses suggest there is a widespread preference for part-time work in working families today. Yet that preference for part-time work is rarely met.
In fact, fewer than 1 in 5 of the respondents in her study suggest they work more than they would like to due to financial reasons.
I’m not. I meet far too many people who feel compelled to spend long hours at work simply because their performance is measured by face time rather than the actual value they provide to an organization. Clarkberg gets at this in her piece when she notes:
Over two-thirds of our respondents indicated that the main reason that they work the hours that they do is because their job requires it and that long hours are defined into the kind of work they want to do.
Supporting these findings, she quotes one husband working 50 plus hours a week:
I won’t be taken seriously in a professional manner if I work less than the hours that I’m working now.
Sound familiar? As noted by Nigel Marsh, author of the book Overworked and Underlaid:
The reality of the society we’re in is there are thousands and thousands of people out there leading lives of quiet screaming desperation where they work long hard hours at jobs they hate, to enable them to buy things they don’t need, to impress people they don’t like.
So that I can wrap things up, let me share with you the moment it all changed for me.
One early Wednesday afternoon, I finished a project I had worked on the better part of the weekend. Instead of taking the rest of the day to “catch up” on all the things I had set aside at the office to get the project done, I decided to catch up on the time I had missed with my son over the weekend.
I picked him up from school early and we spent the rest of the day just chilling. We went swimming, shot some hoops, and ended the day with a burger and fries. It was a super low key affair that didn’t take that much time out of my day, but that night when I put him to bed and kissed him good night, he told me he had the best day ever and wanted to know when we could do it again.
This story is in fact very similar to the one that is told by Nigel Marsh in the TED talk I’ve left you with at the bottom of the blog. As noted by Marsh in the talk:
The small things matter. Being more balanced doesn’t mean dramatic upheaval in your life. With the smallest investment in the right places you can radically transform the quality of your relationships and your life.
Want to support a wellness program at the office? How about starting at the very root of many issues and create a culture that measures success by what people actually do for your organization and the quality of their work rather than the hours they spend at the office*? Do this and the natural outcome will inspire a desire to figure out how to better integrate work into people’s lives rather than into a week.
Special thanks to James Spezeski for help with the reporting and data analysis.
* Here are some suggestions for spending less time in meetings.
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