Work-Life Balance: When Employers Get It

I am writing this as I am home sick today, along with my sick husband and sick toddler. The common cold has swept through our house like the Black Plague. In between naps I find myself answering emails, space planning, heating up soup, jumping on conference calls, checking temperatures, and wiping noses. Multitasking, after all, has become my forte.

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I learned the art of multitasking from my mother, who started her own printing company with my father when she was 26. She learned from her mother, who started her own clothing company downtown in the Gold Coast during World War II. She learned from her mother, who was a seamstress in Italy. And I’m sure it goes on. Being Italian, of course, each of these women still managed to have dinner on the table by 6. I can remember the joy I’d have walking through the front door after dad picked me up from soccer practice, and smelling a huge vat of freshly cooked gravy. That’s “pasta sauce” in layman’s terms. After dinner we would watch TV, mom would help me with my math homework, or we would go for ice cream. Although my parents worked together every day, their work was never discussed at home. Our time together was precious, and to this day I hold true that quality of time is far more important than quantity.

My parents were fortunate enough to have their own business. Much of my childhood was spent roller skating through their printing shop. The foremen would make sure my laces were tied tight and off I went, gliding across the concrete floor and jumping over conduit that powered the great big machinery. Adjacent to my mom’s office up front was a room just for my sister and me, filled with toys, a small desk for homework or coloring, and two sleeping bags for the nights my parents had to work till 3 am to finish a deadline. Having their own business allowed them to have the flexibility to work and raise us at the same time. This, of course, had a negative side as they were never truly able to leave their work.

When we went on vacations, I recall my mother having to find a pay phone or use the hotel phone to call the office periodically, checking in with employees or managing a crisis. I would get so frustrated sometimes, saying “Mommy! You’re on vacation! Why do you have to call work?” And she’d simply reply, “Work pays for our vacations. I’ll be off the phone shortly.” When cell phones and laptops came around, I was older and understood what she meant. I think observing her working while on vacation is a reason I never jumped into owning my own business. I enjoy being able to walk out the door and not worrying about employee payroll or managing overhead. At the same time, I routinely check my cellphone for emails while I’m at home, and sometimes I have to stop and say, “When my son looks up at me for approval, is he seeing me, or is he seeing the silver backing to my iPhone?” I go back to the belief that quality of time is more valuable than quantity, and the phone gets put away.

I enjoy the time I have with my son, making eggs in the morning, picking out what to wear, brushing our teeth. Then I drop him off at daycare knowing that he’s getting cared for by trained professionals and he is developing both cognitive skills and sociability. I typically go to work around 7 so that I can leave around 4. This gives me enough time to pick up my son, play with him, take him to the park, cook and enjoy dinner, give him a bath, read him a story, and put him to bed by 7. Sometimes after I put him to bed, I log in to my laptop, and I get a few more things done for work. There are also times I have to leave work during the day unexpectedly, for example, when my son has a fever and is sent home. I’m fortunate my employer allows for this. My husband’s work does not. In our office, family time is valued. Actually, personal time is valued, even if you don’t have a family. If you have to leave for a dentist appointment, or you just have to run an errand, as long as you are able to complete your work and respond to clients, you are welcome to do as you please.

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In today’s world with dual income parents, portable technology at our fingertips and the demand for goods and services to be delivered at the moment, the importance for flexibility in the workplace is critical. Younger generations have realized that the world does not work at a 9 to 5 pace. Work can be accomplished at anytime, anywhere, so having an employer who is responsive to their employee’s needs makes for a wonderful workplace.

Written by one of our rock-star moms : Jessie James