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Avoiding Work-Life Conflicts: Keeping Your Work at Work

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A couple of months ago, I was involved with my team at work in a project that became totally overwhelming. It was about a $40 million sale of a part of our organization, and the negotiations, document preparation and review, and protecting the interests of both organizations was time-consuming. For about 60 days, we were working nights and weekends, and when we were not at work, there were conference calls, emails to check from home, and more. My family, while they understood the immediate demands, were paying the greater price.

The experience reminded me of a seminar I attended once at a conference with then-Governor Dick Lamm of Colorado and his wife Dottie. Dick told the story of his first year or so as governor when there was so much to do and so many demands on his time and attention. One afternoon, he came home early from the office and walked into the kitchen of their home. His son came through at that moment and said, "Hi, Dad." Dottie then quickly commented, "He is such a bright child. Meets a man once and remembers his name."

That's how things were with us. My family was convinced that I had slipped back into my workaholic ways. Thankfully, the project ended successfully and things got a little more normal at work. But it was an important reminder to me of the need my family has for me at home, undiverted and focused on them.

Why Fathers are Challenged

Today's fathers who work outside the home seem to have a harder time keeping work and family in balance. First, as the economy has tightened over the last few years, there has been more work for fewer workers. Doing more with less has been the mantra in the business world and in the public sector. Layoffs and "right-sizing" have been the norm, resulting in greater demands on our time and attention.

Additionally, recent technological advances like cell phones, personal digital assitants, Blackberries, Treos and iPhones have all helped to blur the lines between personal time and work time. While they are the ultimate in convenience and have saved much time at work, they have also made it easier to have work constantly interrupting personal and family time.

Finally, I think fathers often find that the rewards of work are more tangible and quicker than the rewards of family and fatherhood. At work, success will bring a bonus, a commendation, the respect and appreciation of others. The rewards of fatherhood take a lot longer to realize. I still believe that they are greater, but they are more internal and at a greater distance away from the effort. Accordingly, we are really tempted to spend more time at work to get the shorter term gain.

All About Perspective

For a father to effectively draw boundaries between work and family, it's important to put work in perspective. For example, it helps to look at work as a part of your fathering responsibility and role rather than as totally separate and apart. Putting work in its proper role as a part of the greater whole of parenting helps to segment your time. Work is a part of parenting just like having fun, teaching, coordinating and vacationing.

As a part of this prioritizing process, it's important to understand the relationship between life and work. Ask yourself, "Do I work to live or do I live to work?" If you live to work, it's time to step back and get a picture of the larger whole. You should "work to live."

Certainly giving undivided attention at work and at home are both important. My boss at work expects that I will give a full day's work (and then some) when I am at work. And my family expects the same at home. So I try to keep focus in each place, but avoid getting so compartmentalized that I can't maintain the balance.

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