Monday, November 24, 2014

Deconstructing the Work-Home Balance

I mentioned in my last post that there's not enough hours in the day to get everything done, and I've said plenty of other times before that it is a challenge to be the only person in my department with kids.  My one co-worker is just a few years out of college, and the other is a year older than me with a husband but no kids.  She knows a lot of people with kids, though, so she's aware of how it all goes, but I still get the feeling she doesn't fully comprehend what having kids does to your mindset when it comes to work.  I think on one level, sure, she gets it...kids are sick, you have to stay home.  Kids have something going on, you generally should be there for it.  On a practical level I know she gets it.  Heck, I know she feels strained enough in her daily life without having any kids at home to stretch her further.

But I still don't think anyone really realizes until they have kids that your entire biology changes when things impact your kids.  Immediately something else climbs to the top of your hierarchy and there's no stopping it.  You also know that you have to care for yourself enough to still take care of your family properly.  So while someone else might say, "Well, the job's gotta get done, so just get it done," it's harder for me to do that if it means giving up the time I need to care for my family or care for my own energy level or health.  It's one thing to do that for a one-time event, but another to be asked to do that consistently.  I don't mind putting in a couple hours once a week after the kids are in bed if it makes my life easier in the long run or makes a deadline, but I have too much that I'm behind on at home to give up significant time for work.  If that makes me a bad employee, I'm sorry, but my family comes first.  I simply don't have the option to stay up all night and wear myself down to nothing because I have two little people relying on me to be functional.  And while Craig is here and can hold up his end, it's not his entire job to be my backup.  He's got a lot on his plate, and a job that he can't let slip either.  Something has to give.

There's been a troubling trend at my job lately.  When I first started working there, it was generally a 9-to-5 job.  My job was, at least.  If you had to stay late here and there for certain projects, that was fine.  But most of the time I could leave work at work and my home time was mine.  But now I have a laptop, and so do a significant number of other people in the company.  And with a lot of people checking their mail constantly on their phones (I do not), there is a very clear indication that you're always somewhat on call. 

Our company is closed the week after Christmas.  We used to have to take vacation or make up three days ahead of time.  This year we heard that the policy was changing, but after much probing it came back that the company line was, "If the work is done, enjoy your time."  The flip side of that, of course, is that if the work isn't done, you need to do it.  But here's the thing--the bulk of my monthly deadlines fall within the last couple weeks of the month, which is when we're going to be off.  So in theory, there's no way my work will be done.  But that time is supposed to be reserved for my family (and I have the vacation days to back that up, actually), and if they're home, there's almost no way I can focus enough to get work done.  It's not as simple as sitting down and doing it--I need to work around kids and family commitments...and when it comes to that week, I'm just not motivated to give up that time I so desperately need because in the past it was "protected" time. 

I guess what bugs me is that it used to seem like if deadlines came calling, the company sort of had our backs to say, "Wait, this is the time we've set aside for our employees to be with their families and recharge.  It can wait."  But now that no longer seems to be the case.  My boss worked nearly her entire Christmas break last year because we had a ridiculously scheduled new business situation that needed immediate attention.  No one took a stand to try to alter the terrible scheduling, and therefore no one had her back to give her the rest she needed.  She's still upset about it, and she hasn't had a real break all year.  Now I'm seeing that mentality sneaking into how she deals with us, which was almost never the case before.  Or maybe she was just always able to deflect it for us, but she's so overloaded she no longer can.  The pressure is tremendous, and it's so damaging.  I can't help but wonder at what point she breaks and we're all left to pick up pieces that we can't put back together.  Everyone's replaceable, but it's at a major cost with people who are so good at what they do and that hold an immense amount of knowledge in their brain that can't be learned.

I think part of the problem, too, is that when it comes to your family, everything else pales in comparison.  Your perspective changes completely.  Work no longer seems as life and death as it used to.  Maybe it should in order to keep a job, but it's so sad that the mentality seems to have changed so much over the past few years.  I don't blame my boss--she has been put under tremendous, unfair pressure.  No one has her back (above her), and I think she's probably tired of feeling like the only martyr.  So while she's not going to try to push us specifically, she also won't be able to deflect things like she has in the past.  But it's so hard for me to get to a point where I'm okay with giving work priority.  My time with my family is limited enough, and letting work encroach on that is incredibly hard.  That said, I generally like my job and put in a solid effort every single day.  I have no intention of leaving.  But the recent shift in philosophy is definitely troubling, and this is the time of year when it usually becomes the biggest issue.  The end of the year crunch really stinks, and it's not going to get any easier.

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