Futurists of the 1960s predicted that by the 21st century we'd have one wage earner per family working only 20 hours a week. Modern reality, however, makes this rosy prediction seem almost laughable. Today, we see many people, especially those in high-paid professional jobs, working 50 hours or more each week, leaving precious little time for their families.
Modern technology has enabled this nonstop work habit. With the advent of smartphones, laptops and wireless Internet, we have the capacity to perform work anywhere, anytime — evenings, nights, weekends, in the car and in coffee shops. In a recent survey, 59 percent of e-mail users said they even check their digital mail while in the bathroom. Whatever happened to unstructured leisure time? Families need shared life experiences — getting to know each other in the context of laughter, food, campfires, stories and pillow fights.
Work itself is not the culprit, of course. When in balance with the rest of life, work is a tremendous blessing. It rightfully should stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the family, as both are allies in healthy living. Here are a few ideas to help you establish an appropriate work/family balance.
Watch the speed limit
The workplace values speed because speed increases productivity. The home, however, does not share this affection. Families don't thrive on speed and productivity, but rather, on love and communication.
It's important to know how to switch gears between the pace of work and home. That's what one London "speedaholic" parent learned. At first, he was excited to discover the concept of one-minute bedtime stories. "My first reaction was, Yes! one-minute bedtime stories," he said. "My next thought was, Whoa, has it really come to this? " There is a place for speed, but we should always remember that Jesus was never in a hurry — especially with children. So leave the speedy mind-set at work and take time to relax at home with your family.
Calculate the cost
"Opportunity cost" is the principle that whenever we spend time, money or energy on something, we lose the opportunity to spend that same time, money or energy on anything else. And it is lost forever.
A sustainable work/family balance suggests that we bias our opportunity costs in favor of the priorities that matter most, especially our families. A Seattle man was offered an international VP position in his financial services firm. As a part of the job, he'd be required to answer his BlackBerry 24/7, 365 days a year. As he considered the honor of the promotion, he also thought about his family. Finally, with his children's violins playing in the background, he turned the job down. His balance would have been destroyed, and his time with the family would have suffered. The opportunity cost was just too high. When you make a decision at work, keep in mind the effect it will have on your home life.
Cherish the home
We all wish to have integrity in the workplace, and in an economic downturn our places of employment need invested workers. But our families are far too important — and fragile — to live on a diet of leftovers. If we are giving the least time to those we value most, perhaps this is a wake-up call to slow down, to cultivate biblical contentment and to spend more time at home. It is important to remember, "Work will not love you back." Your co-workers won't be at your bedside when you pass, but your children just might.
Dr. Richard A. Swenson is a futurist, physician-researcher and best-selling author of In Search of Balance.