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Working Mom's Ongoing "Whining" Validated Now That Overworked Hotshot Executive Dads Whine Too
posted by Sheri

The "Get a Life" article from Fortune magazine loaded up on my computer screen this morning as a very welcome read even though its contents seem pretty obvious since we've been hearing it from working moms for decades. It's more the principle of the thing though and Fortune's inclusion of it. It's definitely a good thing.

The article covers a few top companies' work/life balance solutions for overworked male executives (note: not women, not lower level employees). And despite its inaccurate subhead that declares "men finally agree" (as if this idea of work/life balance never occurred to men or am I just surrounded by more evolved men than these?), I am glad to see it. I'm also letting slide, for the purpose of this wannabe-optimistic entry, the belittling comment: "This isn't another tale of a conflicted working mom—Slager is a hard-driving man at the peak of his profession waking up to what women have shouted about for decades." You know, as if his paycheck makes his struggles more valid…And you know, when we mamas say it, we're just whining again.

Now I don't live in the world of the 24/7, top executive work world, nor do most the people I know; however, overworking (and the demands to do so) still rears its ugly head in my life and the lives of my less elite friends and family.

There seem to be several problems the working fathers in my life are struggling with in finding this balance: 1) the burden of being the sole breadwinner (and provider of the healthcare), which brings on the subconscious need to put in extra hours whether that brings in more money for the family or not, 2) the fact that work, for many working men and women, defines success and thus if they're not working extra hours, then they're not successful, 3) the work world doesn't encourage nor reward efficiency if that efficiency leads to less hours worked (and believe me, most of the jobs I've had in my life could've been done in 75% time or less), and 4) the fear of looking like a "softy" at work or being perceived as a less vigilant or lazy employee (fathers feel like asking for a personal life is asking for special treatment).

In my opinion, the most important thing this article does is try to break down this fear. Several bigwig hotshots tell men that's it's okay to want and ask for work/life balance. I'm almost considering a switchover to Starbucks (even though our financial livelihood stems from Peet's Coffee & Tea) after reading Howard Schultz's, chairman of Starbucks, response to the idea of discussing alternative worklives:

"'You may not get what you want, but at least we're going to have this dialogue,' he says. 'And there'll never be a mark against you because you asked for something.'"

And Xerox CEO Anne Mulcahy's similar openness (hmmm, do I need a copy machine?):

"Ann Mulcahy wants top performers to come forward and say, 'Here's the approach I'd like to use to deliver the performance that I think is required.' It's got to be initiated by your best employees,' she adds, to create a buzz around the company that innovative job design is a way to keep great people."

This openness seems to be what it's going to take to change things. An openness from management combined with a willingness on the employee's part to prepare for and ask for what they need.

And one last comment on the article's statement: "But anyone who understands America knows that unless men want something, too, not much will change." Now I unhappily understand the truth in this statement. However, working mothers have been working for years at asking for and claiming more flexible work schedules, and there are many more opportunities opening up (although never enough) because of this. Give us some credit for building the foundation for something smart and healthy that men are FINALLY starting to take advantage of too. I was the first that I know of at my past employer's to ask for and achieve telecommuting status one day a week at my job when our family needed it. I laid out a plan and asked for what I needed. When I later left the company to pursue freelance, my co-worker asked to go part time and telecommute two out of three days. She was also granted this opportunity because together she and I worked out a plan to job share, me working as a contract employee. See, sometimes one good thing can lead to another. It's time to start making demands…

Check out Sampath's Mindspace for one Sri Lankan dad's response to the article.


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