The Balancing Act

Written by Susan Combs. Posted in Monthly Issues, Personal Growth

Work-life balance. It’s a common theme among my coaching clients and not just the harried-married working mothers. Single women long for work-life balance, as do our male counterparts. What has shifted lately is the conversation about “either work or life” to one of “integration.” How can we integrate all key roles of our lives?

What follows is a run-down of an actual 30 minutes of my life last spring trying to integrate three roles – business owner, mom and “home manager,” as I was trying to wrap up the work day, make a bed and get my son ready for hockey practice.

And we’re off…start putting on hockey gear. Sweat pants, garter/cup, leg pads and silly socks. Next, place a quick call to the new client to set up an appointment. Pull linens out of dryer; put on mattress pad, fitted sheet. Back to hockey gear – elbow pads, funny shorts. Shoot a quick e-mail to babysitter asking for help so I can attend a networking reception. Make fast, healthy snack for the road. Finish up bed, grab rest of hockey gear and out the door we go … whew.

My half hour of craziness is no different than what many face in the course of a day. At the Michigan Next Great Companies Summit this spring, Dr. Lois Backon, Senior Vice President at Families and Work Institute, shared insights from their 2008 study entitled “Gender and Generation at Work and at Home” (www.familiesandwork.org). The study was designed to reveal new insights about changing dynamics in our workforce, workplaces and families. Some key findings:

  • Among Millennials (under 30 years of age), women are just as likely to want jobs with greater responsibility. (This is a first since asking the question in 1992.)
  • Attitudes about women’s and men’s work and family roles have changed.  Those agreeing with traditional gender roles declined in all four generations: Matures, Baby Boomers, Gen X and Millennials.
  • Fathers are spending more time with their children than three decades ago. The amount of time employed fathers spend with their children under age 13 on workdays has increased from two hours to three hours. While women still spend significantly more time with their children (3.8 hours per workday), the fathers are catching up.
  • Men are taking more overall responsibility for the care of their children, according to themselves and their wives/partners. The men are also handling more of the cooking as well. (Cleaning… not so much according to the wives.)

At the conference, Dr. Backon reported a big finding in the study. Men are now experiencing more work-life conflict than women, from 35% in 1977 to a whopping 59% in 2008. (At this point I look around the room to see if the other women are trying to contain a smirk.) It seems the women have gotten used to this work-life balance stuff. The level of work-life conflict experienced by mothers in dual-earner couples only shifted from 41% to 45% over the past three decades.

So, we’ve gotten used to the tug of roles and it’s still there. How do we manage? There are several questions I ask my coaching clients:

1. What are you doing for self-care?

Some scoff at this. Especially the two clients who tell me they literally don’t have time to take a bathroom break during the work day because they are running so fast, but I continue to ask the question. In the study mentioned above, one of the takeaways was “that finding more time to spend doing things for oneself – jogging, reading, spending time with friends, or whatever – reduces work-life conflict.”

2. What is the one resource that could ease your life?

If it is a cleaning service, then get a cleaning service, even if it’s just once a month. For others, it’s help with cooking and meals. I carry around business cards from Presto Personal Chef service (www.prestochef.com) and give them out to my clients. It’s a wonderful way to treat yourself during those busy times of the year.

3. How is your support system?

As much as we all like to run around with our Super Woman capes on, it’s exhausting and so much easier if we’d just ask for help. (For some reason, I have to keep re-learning this one.) Create your list of “Go To” people and continually add to it. For help with my son, my list includes Nanny Eileen, my fellow coaches Trudy and Grace, my Junior League friend Pam, my long time friend LuAnn and my newest friend Jane. They all have helped me in a pinch and have my eternal gratitude.

As summer winds down, take this last month to think about how you can integrate your various roles and what can help make life easier. I welcome your comments about coaching and ways you have succeeded in this great balancing act.

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Susan Combs

Susan Combs, MBA, is a credentialed coach and founder of Susan Combs Coaching & Consulting, a professional coaching and training firm with a special emphasis on facilitating corporate mentor programs. Susan lives in Lansing with her energetic 5-year-old son, Max. Susan can be reached at Susan@SusanCombsCoaching.com.

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