Do you leave work at work? Do you bring work home with you? Are you unplugged at home? On the weekend? Where do you draw the line? Is there a line?
The so-called work-life balance has been a hot topic recently. There are people who will throw around ideas like “It’s not worth doing work you’re not truly passionate about, and if you are passionate about it you are always working.” On the other end of the spectrum are people who punch their time-cards at the end of the day and don’t think about work at all until the start of the next.
It’s a complicated issue in the modern era. The traditional 9-5 job is becoming scarce. With the global economy the three-shift day is a reality for many employers. Working just one job is something that fewer people are able to manage. There is a growing cadre of people who are self-employed, many people who work out of their homes, or out of the local cafe. The internet has enabled people to become their own bosses and engage their entrepreneurial spirit.
And in the midst of all this work, where does “life” fit? “Life” when you are single means doing the things you like to do, when you want. Go out with friends. Restaurants. Bars. Sports. Concerts. Shows. Quick trip to Tofino. Long weekend in Vegas. Two weeks on a beach for Christmas. Some days it might be 14 hour days at work.
But for those of us with families, maintaining that lifestyle is pretty unreasonable.
I am one of those people who happens to have a “traditional” job. I’m at a desk for 8 hrs a day, with a half-hour commute tacked on both ends. When you start doing the math, though, that doesn’t leave much time for being with my two boys. A rushed half-hour in the morning when I’m trying to get everyone fed and me off to work, and then a rushed hour-and-a-half in the evening to eat supper and get the boys to bed. So, if I’m lucky, it’s a distracted two hours a day I get to spend with my kids. If I let work get in the way of that, then very quickly those two hours dwindle down to nothing.
Wow, that doesn’t seem like much time.
How much time does the average person watch TV every day? It’s certainly a number bigger than 2 hours. Spending more time with the TV than your kids? Seems wrong somehow.
So, for me, I absolutely need that disconnect between work and not-work. I can’t be bringing work home with me because I want to experience my kids as much as I can. I want them to know that I’m interested in what they’re doing and what they’re learning. I don’t want to miss them growing up. As well, there’s a societal pressure not to be an absentee dad. There’s a pressure not to fall into the traditional 1950s Dad role.
I suppose there might be some opportunity to work after the kids go to bed, but then there are two more factors to consider: my wife and spending time with her, and the fact that by the time the kids are in bed, we’re both WIPED OUT. Whatever work that might get done isn’t going be very high quality, and being an engineer, that’s not a good
Which brings us to the weekend.
Personally, I’ve made a choice that the weekends are also family-only time. Clearly there are extraordinary circumstances every once and a while where work intrudes into the weekend (just as there are extraordinary circumstances where family intrudes into work) but I don’t check my work email on the weekends. I won’t deal with work projects unless there’s a very, very good reason. For me, the weekends are all about being with my wife and kids and enjoying life. Well, enjoying life and chores. Somehow the laundry still hasn’t learned to fold itself.
Does trying to be a good father mean that I’m a bad employee? Or that I’m not passionate about my job? I don’t think so — in fact I tend to think that I’m a better employee for it. And I’m lucky for being able to maintain as much involvement in my kid’s (and wife’s) life as I have.
My problem comes with having to focus on the play time. There's always an iPhone in my pocket or computer around the corner to check up on things.
Yesterday Zacharie and I were playing street hockey and I had to tell myself to put the damn camera down and actually enjoy the moment instead of constantly trying to archive it.
Great piece Anthony, thanks.
I have similar issues to you – I own a small company, so, in theory, as the saying goes, work never stops. Prior to Liam's birth, working 60, 70 hour weeks was commonplace for me. But I made a conscious decision to not do that once he was born. And for the most part, I do that – I work hard during the day, but the evenings & weekends are my family's. I find the hardest thing for me is to “switch off” when I get home – I'm often still in work mode and can't relax and play with Liam. All I really want is 45-60 minutes of quiet to recover, but if I do that then he's off to bed and I've missed the time entirely, so figuring that out is tricky…
I hear you about that recover time. I think I've managed to train my body that it can have that period after both kids are in bed — usually the hour between 8 & 9 pm. Put the PVR'd news on and zone out…