Family vs. Work - Don't Make Us Choose!
My eyes shoot open at 5 a.m.: Am I late? Did I miss a meeting? Did I forget to schedule a meeting? Did my email get sent or did I close my computer too soon? I am forgetting something, I know I am. There's no going back to sleep now, I may as well open up my laptop and start the day. You should know that 7 a.m. is my favorite time of day. Gus wakes up and he sits on my lap and snuggles me for 15 minutes as I listen to my morning meetings (Sometimes when I go off mute he even smiles and says "Hi!" as I start speaking...and it melts my heart). Then he's off to hang out with Dad for the day and I do whatever I can to complete as much work as possible before 4 p.m. - that's my time with my boys.
I work in a very international environment, which means a lot of my meetings happen before noon and I am able to be flexible in the afternoons. It's a give and take. I get up very early so that I can maximize working time with our European and Indian colleagues before they go offline for the day. I schedule my time with my family at a point in the day that allows me to be present with them. Even though I have a certain level of flexibility, I can't tell you how many times I see 3:45 on the clock and think to myself, "I will never be done by 4 p.m." or "People are going to think that I am slacking if I get offline at 4 p.m.". Despite those anxious thoughts, I do my best to close my computer at 4:00 p.m., sometimes knowing that I will be online again after Gus goes to bed. I often feel like there is no end.
What I just described above is an optimal scenario. There are always curveballs that get thrown my way: sick baby, urgent deadline, complete presentation rework request, or I just can't concentrate on that particular day. I have to admit, I do my best to always put my baby first even though my husband is a stay-at-home dad and could handle any problem Gus faces. If Gus gets hurt and needs me to hold him for 5 minutes while he cries, I step away from my computer. If Gus is sick and I have to rush to the doctor, I inform my boss immediately where I will be, what meetings I will miss, and what my plan is to make up the work. If Gus walks upstairs into my office area and runs at me smiling, I catch him in my arms and play with him for a minute until he decides that he has better things to do (after all, Mom isn't always his first priority).
What you have to understand is that, while I make sure I have time for my boys, I still make sure I am getting my work done. Every day I struggle to make sure I am providing great value to my company, but also not missing out on time with my boys. My boss knows I start very early, because he does as well. He also knows that I am willing to work late, when necessary. Even though I have his full support, I often times feel like I am anxious about both forgetting something at work and missing out on something with my family. It's exhausting.
In one of my previous blogs I talked about the importance of communicating to our bosses what our needs are, but today I want to talk to the bosses in the room. If you have an employee come to you with a request, for example, to modify their working hours,
- This does not mean that they are not committed to their jobs.
- This does not mean that their jobs are not important to them.
- This simply means that we are people first and employees second, and we have personal needs.
As bosses, we need to accept the current world situation and understand that, if we agree to allow our employees to shift their workday, for example, to ensure they are offline from 4-6 p.m. every day, then we should do our best not to schedule important meetings during that time slot. The reason for this is that you are leaving them out of [potentially] critical discussions, such as issue resolution or crisis meetings, and ones that could be crucial to them moving up in the workforce. You are also giving the impression that an employee always has to be available. This forces them to choose between their family and their work.
Let me be clear: I do not think the entire business world should turn upside down as a result. I do, however think that if we make certain exceptions then we should do whatever is in our power not to schedule a team meeting during that time slot or request a 1:1 with that person. I also believe the employee needs to take a look at their current schedule and ensure that they are not missing current recurring meetings that they need to partake in. It's all about balance. Just as the employee needs to be vocal about their needs, bosses need to be clear about their expectations of the employee.
If we want to show our employees that we value them, that we respect their time off, that we understand their personal needs, then we need to make sure that our actions are supporting our intentions. Of course, there are exceptions and certain things that cannot wait or be avoided; however, it should not be the rule. If we agree to specific working hours/conditions, then we need to make sure that we honor this agreement, that we are not asking why this employee is absent, that they are not being indirectly punished for having needs outside of work. Please be conscious of your actions because I can tell you from experience, work only wins over family for a certain period of time.
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