The past couple of weeks, I was paired with a 20-something co-worker to do a big pitch for work. She’s newly out of college and this is her first job since graduation – and she’s doing a fabulous job! I knew that I brought a lot of experience to the table and I looked forward to helping her. Like any young person new to a position, she was eager to do a great job. She put in the extra research and extra time to pull together a presentation for the pitch. So where is the problem, you ask? Work-life balance at different points in life.
While work-life balance is in the front of my thinking because I have children at home, she has no children and was very eager to put in the extra hours. She wanted to work late one night, which I did reluctantly, but instead of just giving in, I took the opportunity to share with her my rules for work-life balance. Afterwards, it dawned on me that no one had ever taken the time to have that discussion with me as I was struggling through my career. In fact, I didn’t even really understand what work-life balance truly is until about five years ago.
I have found that one of my best rules-of-thumb that I adopted was that I will have dinner with my children every night. I can work after dinner. I can work before dinner. But, I will set time aside every night to have dinner with them and talk about the events of the day. Of course, there will be a rare occasion where that won’t happen, but I find that the kids are fine the few times I have had to do it because it is an exception and not the rule.
I have also found that co-workers are willing to allow that to happen as long as I prepare them for it. If meeting invites come through for my dinner time, I communicate that is my children’s time and I am more than willing to do it earlier or later. If they want to work into the evening, I request a list of tasks that need to be accomplished with the deadline and agree to work on it at home after dinner. Most importantly, I make sure the message always comes with “I have do dinner with my kids first”. Not only does that help them see work-life balance in action, but by following through with it, I am also teaching my girls about work-life balance.
When I told my eager co-worker about the reasoning for what I do, I took the time to help her understand why. When you are young, you want to make a mark in the world. That is the reasoning many use to work the extra days and late hours. Unfortunately, that also contributes to the pattern that needs to be broken. So, what can you do to help pass the message on about work-life balance? How did you learn about work-life balance? What areas do you struggle with the most to make it happen? Be sure to pass on what you learn as you go so maybe the next generation will think it is normal instead of the exception!