Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Gaining or Losing Balance

There's been a lot of talk around the blogosphere about Jack Welch's recent comment saying that there is no work-life balance. As Laura at 11D points out, evidence certainly suggests that the government and businesses are not interested in providing policies that help people achieve balance. She directs us to a great quote from Conor Friedersdorf, blogging at The Daily Dish. He suggests that maybe we should stop aiming for the top of the corporate ladder and count our blessings.

Amen! I've come to feel that this work-life balance thing could be about making good policies, but it's more about cultural expectations. While I think it's unlikely that people at the top of the corporate ladder are going to spend significant time with family, I don't think that means the rest of us need to work like CEO's, putting in 60-80 hours (or more!) a week. But that's what the culture dictates. In the tech industry, this culture is pervasive. Programming, system administration, etc. can all take place any time of the day and the work is never finished. The people who have the time and want to take the time often put in ungodly amounts of work, creating a culture where everyone else feels the need to do so as well. This has been especially hard on women, as they are often primary caregivers, and can't put in those hours.

I feel as though this concept of success=number of hours worked per week is pervasive, not limited to certain fields. Neighbors tout about how many hours they work no matter what their field. Now, does more work actually get accomplished? I'm sure in some cases, that's true. But in some cases, I suspect there's a law of diminishing returns, that after a certain number of hours in a day, productivity levels off or declines. So I wish, as a society, we could quit judging people for whether they work, how much they work, etc., and think of them as whole people.

The other day in the car, I had a moment where I realized that my past self would be very unhappy with my current self. I used to judge and criticize women who stepped off the career track. In my mind, success was about working full time, with or without family obligations. And maybe it's true that from a purely financial standpoint, women who step out of careers are giving up a bit of success. But there's more to life than financial and career success. That's what I'm coming to now. That moment in the car made me first, have some doubts about what I'm currently doing, and then second, laugh at my past self. Perfect balance may indeed be elusive, but I think no one should dismiss those that are trying to find it.