by David T. Gordon

Work-Life Balance: Making Family a Priority

Oct 15, 20017 mins

DIEGO SAENZ TOOK HIS FAMILY to a florida resort for Memorial Day weekend this year. While there, Saenz, the former CIO of Pepsi Latin America and Wackenhut who’s now president and COO of Intelligent Content, conducted what amounted to a family performance evaluation. He and his wife wrote out an annual set of objectives and talked about what should change and what shouldn’t, even consulting their 3- and 7-year-old sons. They then made a master plan to reflect everyone’s wishes and goals, linking all their work, church, school and personal priorities in one place.

Is this the dark side of the blurring of work and personal life? Is it the Management by Objective methodology taken too far? Far from it, Saenz says; by consciously prioritizing the demands on his time, he is acting on the importance of his family to him. “This is the sort of thing we do with staff all the time. Why not with family?” says Saenz, whose company is based in Weston, Fla. “When we get home, we often forget the same principles that make us successful at work.”

In a time when work tends to intrude on personal time, particularly for executives, it’s necessary to prioritize both so that work doesn’t overwhelm and family life isn’t neglected. Get on your friends’ and family’s calendars?and put them on yours. “It sounds cold, but you really do have to schedule time with your family,” says Gary Baxter, CIO and vice president of Maine Employers’ Mutual Insurance Co. (MEMIC) in Portland. “I have appointments with my wife and kids. And I would no more miss that time with my family than I would a performance evaluation with my boss or some other crucial appointment.”

R&R: Recruitment and Retention

In recent years, the issue of work-life balance has become increasingly important to CIOs. As companies ratcheted up performance demands on IT organizations amid a high-tech labor shortage, managers faced an especially difficult challenge: how to get the most out of employees without driving them away into easily accessible greener pastures.

So now that the slowing economy has eased labor market pressures, is it no longer necessary to offer family- and lifestyle-friendly practices? That’s a shortsighted view?flexible work arrangements remain valuable tools in any CIO’s hiring and retention strategy, says Rebecca Rhoads, CIO and vice president of Raytheon, the Lexington, Mass.-based defense contractor. IT work is intense, sometimes requiring long hours and weekend work. Sensitivity to work-life concerns makes such sacrifices agreeable to all. “When you help people find balance or work through difficult stretches in their lives, you say, We want to be partners for the long haul,” Rhoads says.

Saenz believes that flexible work practices make good bottom-line business sense. “Our measurements of success are based on results,” says Saenz. “We hire professionals. Working X number of hours isn’t important. In fact, if you try to enforce a stringent schedule, then you get people working to the schedule, not to results.”

Are employees who have flexible work practices more dedicated and productive? That question was the focus of a study published in October 2000 by the National Work/Life Measurement Project at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management. The study of more than 1,350 employees and more than 150 managers at six major corporations, such as Lucent Technologies and Motorola, showed that most managers and employees favored flexible work practices. Three-fourths of managers said flexible work arrangements enhanced productivity, quality of work and retention.

The report’s authors say the most effective work-life practice is “daily flextime”?giving employees the opportunity to vary their hours on an as-needed basis, such as leaving early on certain afternoons to pick up a child from school or taking time one morning a week to take an elderly parent shopping. Nearly two-thirds of workers using daily flextime said they were satisfied or very satisfied with their lives.

Your Job, Yourself

Work-life arrangements are more than just tools to keep good employees on board, of course. Balancing work and personal life can be especially difficult for CIOs. “IT systems run 24/7, so it can be hard as CIO to leave the work of the office behind,” says Rickie Hall, CIO and vice president of ANC Rental, the Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based parent of Alamo and National Car Rental. Yet Hall, who has two children, aged 5 and 9, accepts the challenge of juggling her career and parenthood with the same enthusiasm that helped her reach the executive ranks in the first place. “I chose to do both, and I’m very proactive about making it work,” she says.

Making the work-life trade-off succeed requires taking steps both at the office and at home. Saenz has a “no Sundays” rule, which he made a condition of taking the COO job at Intelligent Content. “My family knows that I am theirs on Sunday,” he says. “It doesn’t matter if there’s a big project going on or a proposal to write; my children always know that daddy will be available to them all day Sunday. I don’t check e-mail or voice mail, and my staff knows not to call me that day.” A deacon in his church, Saenz finds good business sense in the Fourth Commandment. “When God said to keep the Sabbath holy, he said that not for his benefit but for our own. We need rest.”

At the office, don’t treat employees like your children. Micromanagement hurts CIOs and their direct reports, says Raytheon’s Rhoads. “You don’t abdicate your leadership just because you’re not there at a certain time. You can let go without letting go. The people who you’re developing for succession should have that experience of working on their own sometimes.”

Finally, take advantage of IT. The innovations of the past 15 years have undercut the notion that you have to be at your desk to do your job. John Halamka, CIO of CareGroup Healthcare System, a Boston-based hospital network, says weekends are reserved for family, when he and his wife take their 8-year-old daughter on mushroom hunts or canoeing trips. That doesn’t mean he is out of touch for very long. He depends on a satellite pager, a cell phone and a BlackBerry PDA to manage his time. “I rely on IT utilities so I can deal with things as they come up,” he says.

MEMIC’s Baxter uses his 45-minute commute to dictate memos and notes with a digital voice recorder, which has IBM’s ViaVoice speech-to-text software. Baxter spends the time saved on coaching Little League, coordinating Cub Scout trips, and serving on a parks and recreation committee in his town.

Still, despite the growing awareness among CIOs and their employees of the need for family-friendly practices, a balance of work and personal life remains elusive. In a survey taken earlier this year of 265 members of World Women in Technology, a networking community of IT women, more than two-thirds said they are worried about IT’s round-the-clock demands. Forty-one percent said they have considered leaving their jobs as a result. Meanwhile, the National Center for Fathering reported in 1999 that 58 percent of Americans (both men and women) believe employers do not recognize the challenge fathers face in trying to balance work and family demands. That’s up from 28 percent just five years ago.

That statistic demonstrates that work-life issues are not primarily women’s work, as was once conventional wisdom. They are everyone’s concern, says Mindy Fried, author of Taking Time: Parental Leave Policy and Corporate Culture (Temple University Press, 1998) and coauthor of the Boston College study on work-life. “Men are more involved with their children and family life than they used to be,” she says. “So this is an issue that impacts all of society.” n