Work-life balance: I say 'Boo'

Elizabeth Newman
Elizabeth Newman

A few years ago, I threw a fit when the American Assisted Living Nurses Association scheduled its conference during Yom Kippur. I stand by that, but also am sympathetic to how many LeadingAge members and vendors are struggling with a big holiday next week.

That's Halloween, of course, which hits Monday during the multi-day conference. It is, to be sure, both a lot more fun and a lot less serious than a Jewish holiday in which you fast and hope God grants you another year. The LeadingAge conference next year, in New Orleans, also is during Halloween.

It's a bit of a bummer. I've talked to a handful of people with young children who recently said they are skipping the 2016 conference in order to be there for trick-or-treating. It will be hard to know if that depresses turnout, or whether the issue is a lack of excitement around Indianapolis, or some other reason.

In LeadingAge's defense, it's difficult to find a good time in the fall, and the group has instituted a variety of ways to acknowledge Halloween. One is a Facebook Halloween Photo Contest, where people can send in a photo of their favorite trick or treater (including pets!) to contest@leadingage.org. The person with the most “likes” by 11:59 pm on November 2 wins an Xbox. Also, when the expo opens Monday, participants can pick up a treat bag, with encouragement to collect “tchotchkes for your kids.” (Kudos for the Yiddish, LeadingAge. You've come a long way since you scheduled your conference on Yom Kippur. For those who don't know: “tchotchkes” means “knickknacks.”) 

For many families, Halloween is a multi-day affair, so people will see their children dressed up at school today, or have a community event Saturday night, or use FaceTime or Skype on Monday night. But the intersection of what is essentially a kid's holiday and one of the biggest long-term care conferences of the year hammers home what many long-term care providers face regularly: That sticky question of work-life balance. Let us raise a glass for a moment to the LeadingAge participants who are going to come back to their hotel room on Monday night after a long day, look at photos of their babies dressed as superheros, princesses or farm animals, and burst into tears.

Let me be clear that this isn't just a “women's issue.” I talked to the CEO of a large chain recently, a man in his 40s, who said it was important for him to not be a “silent dad.” Success mattered, it was clear, but he also wanted to be around to attend his daughter's events.

It's always been tough to balance this, of course, whether it's a soccer game you miss due to a conference or a work crisis that keeps you from a recital. I don't have a solution, but I do want to offer one of the best pieces of advice I ever received on “work-life” balance, from the authors of “Good Enough is the New Perfect.”

Stop trying to find that balance, because it doesn't really exist, the authors proclaimed. One of them noted that we do ourselves a disservice to try to achieve that balance every day, or even every week. Instead, they said, focus on seasons.

The reason I found the seasons concept freeing is because it allowed me to focus. There will be months where I work long hours immersed in a project, and then I shut off my email so I can go on a vacation with my family. There have been seasons where I exercised five days a week, or gave up alcohol, or ate lots of vegetables and, more often, seasons where I drink too much beer and am lucky if I take a walk around the block.

This may be your season where you have been thrown into an executive role and have to work or travel more, and it means missing more of your family life than you want. You may be juggling multiple roles until you can hire someone new.

But know that this shouldn't, and can't, be a constant state. Recognize that in six months or a year, you may be able to put your foot down and say, “I can't do this thing on this night, because my daughter/son needs me for this event.” If there is backlash to that, take a hard look at whether the job is sustainable long-term.

If you are the person in charge who sees your employees struggling, talk to them about how to make their seasons better. Because if we stick to old rigid notions of what dedication means, we have a very real risk of burning out our best and brightest.

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McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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