Work-life balance and other silly stuff

I’ve had some thoughts brewing in my head for a while now about differing views on parenting, breastfeeding, working, etc, brought on by some strong statements from a number of voices on the internets. From letting your baby cry-it-out and taking extended maternity/paternity leave, to deciding not to breastfeed or not to have children at all, it seems everyone has an opinion. I recently commented that the day I quite breastfeeding was incredibly liberating. Despite my ease with nursing and pumping, I absolutely hated my body during that year. Finding clothes (and bras) to fit my newly disproportioned body during a tenure-track job search was demoralizing. 34H is not a common bra size, and the girls housed in that bra made me feel more like a porn star than scientist. The blogger on whose blog I commented didn’t share this view, and that’s okay – it’s my view. But I think it’s important for us all to remember how different and personal these issues and decisions are for each individual.

On a related tangent, sometime last year I got my panties in a bunch because a few bloggers were disappointed with the predominance of baby-talk at their institutions’ work-life balance and women’s issues symposia. I’m clearly biased, but I happen to think an environment that’s friendly to parents will also be more accommodating to other work-life balance issues. Let’s face it, there’s only so much that can be covered at these seminars, and issues for young parents are likely the most abundant. On the other hand, women have a lot of REAL issues to deal with other than baby leave and a clean, private place for nursing mothers to pump. Finding the right forum for all of these issues is something our society doesn’t do very well, however, because we’d rather simplify and marginalize than embrace a diversity of lifestyles.

Well, now there’s a new kerfuffle about work-life balance arising on the internets, and some jacknut wants everyone to be treated “the same”, regardless of their situation:

Everyone should have the same deal: A certain amount of vacation, a certain amount of health time.

This is obviously ridiculous – not everyone works the same, and no amount of bean-counting hours is going to level the playing field. Sure we need standards, but those standars shouldn’t be used without common sense. People get cancer and other horrible illnesses that prevent them from working every day; many of these individuals find ways of making up for the time off. Elderly parents need attention. Women have babies, and some take longer to recover. Some couples adopt from foreign countries. Divorces happen. Spouses lose their jobs. Stress from home creeps into office hours. There is just no sane way to address all people and stresses of life the same. Common sense and an accommodating boss, who understands they get the best productivity from happy employees, are really the only fair real solutions*.

We all have different ideas of what we want our lives to look like. We all have varying views on family. We all derive different degrees of pleasure from our careers. I’m privileged to have a job in which I’m (theoretically) rewarded based on the quality of work I do, rather than the quantity of hours I or my employees work. Set up a good research program, direct the lab to solid funding, contribute to the university’s teaching and service missions. That’s what I hope I’ll get judged on, not whether or not I took a three month break to take care of a young child, or a two hour lunch to walk my pit bull.

*Like DM said, life’s not fair.

8 thoughts on “Work-life balance and other silly stuff

  1. Pingback: Not all work/life balance issues are equal | DrugMonkey

  2. I had a completely different reaction to the end of breastfeeding, too. It was a bittersweet thing for me- but that doesn’t make your experience any less valid. My bra size remains the same ridiculously large size it was when I was breastfeeding, though- I am now somewhere between 36G and 38F. And I thought finding a good bra was difficult and expensive back in my pre-pregnancy days when I was just a 36D….

    I’m not as plugged into the academic blogosphere, so I missed the work-life balance kerfuffle. I’ll have to go catch up.

    I will say, though, that out here in industry we all do sort of get the same amount of time off. Which means that parents generally don’t get to take very long vacations. I’m just back from the one week + one day trip we could squeeze out of our PTO balances this year.

    And honestly, I think that is bad for business. Because vacations help you recharge and become more productive. I think this so strongly that I sometimes take days without pay to allow myself enough recharging time. And I unofficially grant my employees comp time all the time, because I happen to work at a place where people care most about whether or not we meet our goals, and having burned out employees is a sure fire way to miss them.

    I’m not sure if any of that is relevant to the kerfuffle, but really- so much of the work-life balance stuff just makes good management sense that I sometimes find it hard to understand why it is controversial.

  3. Oh good lord. I just read some of the comments over at DrugMonkey’s place.

    I don’t think a lot of those people commenting have ever had to manage ANYTHING. As a manager, I don’t give a rat’s ass how many hours anyone else works or how long they take for lunch for whatever reason. I judge on productivity. And my experience (and actually some research) shows that longer hours do not necessarily mean more productivity, so in fact, I consider someone who regularly works super long hours as a source of concern.

  4. It’s weird too because academics have really clear measures of productivity. I was just explaining this to my (fantastic) new summer RA when he was asking about Lazear contracts and how they interact with monitoring. We academics *don’t* get monitored a whole lot and that’s because it’s obvious who is getting publications, citations, etc. (Sure, those aren’t perfect measures of quality because of things like luck and discrimination, but they’re pretty clear measures.) We just have to show up for class and the occasional faculty meeting. In the sciences it may be easier to free-ride because of the group laboratory environment.

    I should write a post on the topic rather than expanding on it in depth here. I will add it to my pile of “econ stuff to blog.” Much easier to do thinky posts during the summer than during the school year.

  5. “Common sense and an accommodating boss….”

    Oh seriously, that’s your answer?! I guess you and Cloud have never worked for an asshole boss, who thinks it’s “common sense” that women belong at home supporting their husbands. It’s all well and good when the people you work for share the same values you do. When they don’t, that’s when clear rules become indispensable. The basic premise of giving everyone the same benefits (e.g., vacation, sick time) and salary for the same job is a sound one.

  6. Anon, I don’t think you read what I actually wrote. I’ve never had a job where all people didn’t get the same benefits. I just said that most of the things that make for good “work-life balance” for employees also make good management sense. I didn’t say all bosses are good managers.

  7. Pingback: Why academics don’t have Lazear contracts « Grumpy rumblings of the half-tenured

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