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The family man balancing act executives find ways to juggle work and family.

Several years ago, while working at Novell Corporation, Ed McGarr, now vice president of sales for Starbridge Systems, got his wake-up call. It came during his annual review.

"I was told that, although I was very helpful, because of how involved I was with what everyone else was doing, I wasn't doing my job," McGarr says. "It hit me that not only was I ineffective in my job, but in many areas of my personal life as well." From that point on, McGarr says, he stopped being a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none, so to speak, and learned how to focus, work smart and get things done. "I now do the things that matter the most, in my job, with my family and with myself," he says.

Though we should all be so lucky to experience this kind of clarity, the challenges McGarr faced in balancing his work and family are those almost every married-with-children professional confronts at one point or another.

Recently, however, with more than 45 percent of America's workforce made up of women, much attention has been paid to the plight of mothers working outside the home. And justifiably so; society is adamant that if girls strive to accomplish the same professional goals as their male counterparts, they must pit that task against urgings about the importance of putting family first.

Another, less publicized tug of war is that waged by many working men. In the same way society offers a double-edged sword to professional women, men, too, are receiving mixed messages, says Rebecca Good, a licensed professional counselor in Salt Lake City. "Men are still socialized to be the bread-winners," Good says, "but as more of their wives enter the workforce, husbands are now expected to be able to perform traditionally female roles--child care, housework, carpools, etc.--as adeptly as their wives."

For many men, these new familial expectations are not fulfilled easily. Gary Kiger, professor of Sociology, dean of the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences at Utah State University, and author of several gender, work and family studies, has identified four different kinds of work completed within a family unit. They include emotional work, or the emotional support a family lends to one another; domestic labor, or housework; childcare and rearing; and status enhancement work, or things spouses do for one another to enhance their professional lives. How this work is divided between a husband and wife, to many, may not be surprising. "Women consistently do more housework and take on more child care responsibilities than men, and they are not happy about it," Kiger says, "which can have a real impact on a relationship."

Erik Christiansen, an attorney and shareholder at Utah's largest law firm, Parsons, Behle & Latimer, has become intimately acquainted with housework and child caresince his and his wife's daughters were born two and four years ago. Both work 50 to 60 hours a week, but because Erik's schedule is slightly more flexible than his wife, Michele's--she's an assistant U.S. attorney--making dinner and getting the kids ready for bed falls onto his shoulders. "Michele is a very organized person, but it would be really unrealistic of me to expect her to shoulder all of the housework and child care," Christiansen says.

Another challenge men face in juggling the work and family equation is that, despite legal enforcement of genderless family leave policies, men as a rule are not as encouraged to take time off for family as women are. "For men to take time off when a child is born requires the practice to be a part of the company culture at the highest levels, rather than simply printed in the employee handbook," Kiger says.

The key, amidst all the challenges men face in balancing their personal and professional lives, Good says, is communication and planning. "Make plans on how to handle things like child-rearing and finances, and not only stick to them, but revisit the plans often."

Whether in a dual-income or single-income household, solving behavior problems is often left to one parent or the other, creating a source of tremendous stress. Behavioral charts, outlining consequences for both desirable and undesirable behavior, are one way Good suggests parents can agree on discipline strategies, present a united front to their children and be better communicators. "Children need to know their parents are on the same page," Good says.

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Another common pitfall with busy families is mismanaging finances. Couples often find themselves solving time shortfalls by spending money. Hiring a maid to clean the house or ordering take-out every night for dinner can defeat the purpose of both parents working in the first place. Establishing a budget, sticking to it and revisiting it often can keep stress about money from disturbing the family equilibrium.

After his epiphany at Novell, McGarr sat down and created a plan. "The first step was figuring out who I had obligations to," he says." They were, in no order of importance, God, my wife, my children, my employer and my country." He then narrowed his list to the roles he fulfills in life--father, husband, employee. U.S. citizen, church member and rock band member--and approached balancing his life from a project management standpoint, considering three factors: time, resources and scope. Now, he says, he knows what he needs to do every day, both at work and at home. "I realized that by understanding my roles, prioritizing the things I need to get done, casting out the clutter and, sometimes most importantly, learning to say no, I was not only more effective in all my roles, but much happier," McGarr says. "I get stuff done now, and that's a very good feeling."

Becoming more efficient has also helped Christiansen fulfill both his work and family obligations. Last year, he took his daughters on a month-long summer vacation to an island in the Pacific Northwest. His wife, not able to get away for the entire trip, joined the family for the first and last weeks. "I was very worried about taking so much time off," Christiansen says. But despite taking such an extended leave, he ended up billing more hours for his firm in 2003 than he ever had before. "It was very empowering to know I could still maintain the responsibilities of my job and spend such quality time with my family," he says.

In addition to planning, Good stresses the importance of couples understanding the pressures in the other person's world. Men often approach problems from the cerebral perspective, she says, while women rely more on their emotions. "Couples need to find a way to honor each other's differences, fill that communication gap and find the best way to communicate with one another," Good says.

For Christiansen, respect for his wife's professional life seems to be at the core. "You can't fall into the trap of thinking what one person does is more important than what the other does. I think this is where a lot of people manufacture crises," he says. "If both Michele and I are busy with work and can't make time for the kids, instead of letting a conflict happen, we stop and come up with a solution. Very seldom are there things that come up that we can't handle."

Melissa O'Brien Fields is a Salt Lake City-based freelance writer
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Author:O'Brien Fields, Melissa
Publication:Utah Business
Geographic Code:1U8UT
Date:Feb 1, 2004
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