Work/Family Balance Vital To All

Take responsibility as managers and individuals.

I recently talked to a friend of mine in the business world about the tragic schoolyard shooting in Jonesboro, Ark., last month. Maybe, she suggested, it's a reflection of people trying to fit too many things into a day and not having enough time for their children -- or an indication of how increased pressures at work have translated into increased pressures at home for both parents and children. We probably never will know why the shootings occurred. But we can at least hope that the violence -- no different in some respects from recent incidents of workplace violence -- will serve as a wake-up call. That is, if we want to have a successful America with healthy companies, we can no longer allow the continued disintegration of the family unit. All of us need to learn how to better balance work and family concerns, and to do more listening and less talking. Managers need to listen to workers, address their concerns, and offer help. We can do the same as parents. As individuals, we need to put aside our pagers, our cell phones and the stack of papers that many of us carry home in a briefcase. We need to separate our work from our home lives. Companies can help, as well. Levi Strauss & Co., for example, took a giant step toward helping its employees balance work and family needs four years ago. It decreed that company meetings that require out-of-town travel must start on Tuesday so workers would no longer have to leave their families on Sunday nights. In the long run, though, it is up to each of us individually to make some hard choices when it comes to separating work and family. We need to try to keep our jobs in perspective and to understand when work is important and when it can be finished another day. If we don't, the stress -- and the confrontations -- in the workplace, at home, and in schools will continue. The next time you feel pressured by trying to balance work and family, remember that there is more at stake than your own career. And keep in mind this comment that I heard over 20 years ago from a former IBM employee: "If I had my life to live over, I would try to make more mistakes next time. I would relax. I would be sillier than I have been this trip. I know of very few things I would take seriously. I would climb more mountains, swim more rivers, watch more sunsets. I would have more real troubles and fewer imaginary ones."

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