Jack Welch recently made news when he told an audience of Human Resources professionals at the annual professional conference that “There’s no such thing” as work-life balance. There’s a pretty interesting debate on the statement over at WSJ.com’s blog on “The Juggle”.
Here’s where Jack is right: work-life balance is full of choices and consequences.
Here’s where he’s wrong: work-life balance does exist, as evidenced by working parents balancing work and life every day.
What is work-life balance anyway? Here’s my definition: when you’ve got a good work-life balance, you feel relatively satisfied that you’ve got a good focus on work and a good focus on home, and that you’re working it in a way that works for you.
Dr. Ellen Kossek and Dr. Brenda Lautsch wrote an excellent book which goes into depth on how to weigh the tradeoffs and make the adjustments you need to make work/life work for you. "CEO of Me: Creating a Life that Works in the Flexible Job Age” has helped shaped my thinking about work-life, I highly recommend it for people who are struggling with the question of whether work-life balance exists. The book also acknowledges that companies have room for improvement, and I’d encourage CEOs like Jack to give it a read, to better understand the changing expectations of their workforce.
As a working mom, do I feel I have work-life balance overall? Yes. Every single day? No way. Some days feel like they are held together with scotch tape. My summer schedule for my two young daughters is a highly refined matrix of camp, now that they’ve reached an age where day care in the summer is not their idea of a good time, and my husband and I balance the drop off and pick up on a daily basis, and manage the household. When school and sports start up again, we’ll adjust the schedules, fit in the kids’ activities, and balance it all over again. Life consists of fitting in physical exercise, which I need for my sanity, and a new puppy, which I finally caved in on, thanks to having an 11-year old future veterinarian on my hands, taking care of aging parents and dealing with all sorts of family issues, and finding time for friends and fun.
The work side of the equation includes having senior level positions where I’m leading a team of people who have been located all around the world, making sure I’m focused on their high performance and helping them develop in their careers. High performance is a priority for me, I’m not a person who can slack off about work. So we’re talking about a consistent focus on my own high achievement at work, which for me, is a really important part of the balance puzzle. I’ve balanced international and domestic travel, though personally find the balance the least difficult when I keep the travel below a certain threshold, or at least well-balanced with my husband’s career and travel.
So how do I make work-life balance work for me? I look for ways to blend. In addition to giving it my all at work, I wanted to give back to the community by volunteering, so when a local organization needed some HR expertise on their board of directors, I found balance there, since the organization runs a camp that my kids attend. To give back to the grad school I went to, I volunteer on occasion by speaking to their students about careers. To give back to the company, I started this blog. These have all been great ways to combine professional and personal goals.
One thing that you learn from the book is that it’s an individual balance. I have working mom friends who are in high-travel sales jobs, attorneys who work part time, single moms, dual career couples, stay at home dads, and friends in small companies and big companies, schools and hospitals. The common theme amongst all of us is that we work the balance issues almost daily, we make trade-offs, and some days it all works beautifully, some days it’s a disaster, but on balance, it’s do-able. We like the rewards of having good careers and we like being able to raise families. We thank the pioneering women before us, and we hope that our work-life methods will pave the way for the next generations, and that eventually we’ll put to rest the debate about whether work-life balance exists.