Most rewarding careers, as well as many others, require long hours. For many of us, those long hours also include travel. I love my job, but I love my family much more. My family needs my time, but they also need my job. My company appreciates the importance of family but counts on me to do my job. Balancing these seemingly conflicting objectives is an ongoing challenge for me. Here are some thoughts I can share after 15 years of trying.
- Remember, kids are not stupid
Before you cut back on work, take a serious look at your personal time. True, family is more important than work. However, work is more important than golfing and watching football. Working is part of taking care of your family. And while some amount of exercise and personal time is good, many of these activities will simply have to go. Even at a young age, children understand the difference between “Daddy has to go to work” and “Daddy is going golfing.” They understand that work sometimes has to cut into their time. They do not understand why golf has to. You've chosen to be a parent, and you've chosen a demanding career. They come at a price. Put away the golf clubs and step away from the television; you've got more important things to do. Either that or take your son golfing and teach your daughter the joys of watching a good football game.
- Decide what event matters
When your family has a truly important event, put it on your calendar and let people know you are unavailable that day. Don't tell clients, “I could do that day if necessary;” tell them, “I'm not available that day” or don't even list that day as an option. If they have a true crisis that warrants you missing the family event, they will let you know; then, and only then, you can change your position and accommodate them.
- Always phone home
When traveling, always make a point to call home at least once, preferably a couple of times per day. E-mail and text messaging are better than nothing but not as good as your family hearing your voice and you hearing theirs.
- Mileage plus
Put those frequent flier miles and hotel points to good use. When possible, take your family, or one or two members of your family, with you. If traveling to an interesting location, take your spouse, one or two kids, or your entire family and stay an extra day or two.
- Office trip
Similar to number 4. If working in the evening or on the weekend, take your kids to work with you when possible. I still haven't figured out why, but my two oldest children love going to work with me.
- Don't ignore your spouse
I think it is human nature for parents to focus on the kids when they're working late or traveling. Be sure to spend at least as much, probably more, time speaking with your spouse as you do with any one child. Another option is to call after the kids are in bed or before they get home from school. That way, your spouse knows you're interested in him or her. As a result, his or her attitude will improve, and the whole family will be better for it.
- Mealtimes matter
Try to eat at least one meal per day together as a family. Typically, this would be breakfast or dinner. If you're going to work long hours, either get to work early or work late, not both.
- Courtesy counts
Be courteous and let your family know when you're going to be late or will miss an event. Don't place the added stress on them of wondering when, or if, you're going to arrive. For some reason, I struggle with this one in part because I tend to underestimate the time it's going to take me to finish my work. It's one of the few things that bothers my wife about my job, and it's something I can easily fix.
- Promote yourself
Don't overdo it, but when you cancel a meeting or put off work to accommodate a family event, casually let your family, particularly your kids, know you did it. It's important that they hear you say and see you demonstrate that they truly are more important than work.
- Practice what you preach at work
Encourage your employees to put priority on their families and don't ask them to make any greater sacrifice than you are prepared to make yourself. Furthermore, your company and coworkers will be more understanding of your time away from work if they know you are every bit as committed to the company as they are.
- When all else fails
Win the lottery or rob a bank and retire young.
© St. Onge Company 2008
Mike Jones is president of York, PA-based St. Onge Co., a leading supply chain strategy and engineering consulting firm. Mike has been with the company for 14 years. He and his wife, Julie, have been married for 15 years and are the parents of four children ages 5, 7, 9 and 11. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.stonge.com.