Career Currents

In my most recent column on many IT professionals' struggle to balance work with the rest of their lives, I printed the views of readers with children who said that when long workweeks become a prerequisite for career advancement, it has the effect of discriminating against workers with children (see "Readers say employers make it tough for them to balance work and family," http://www.infoworld.com/printlinks).

Although I heard from a number of readers who agree with this premise, not everyone shares this view. Some readers said it's only fair that people who make their careers a priority should be more successful than those who put other commitments first. And several childless readers said they resented that their commitments outside of work are not taken as seriously as their colleagues' commitments to their children are.

Is the workplace destined to be a battleground between parents struggling to juggle multiple commitments and childless workers who resent being asked to fill in for them?One reader I heard from pointed out that this black-and-white view harms both workers with children and those without.

"Workers without families often seem to be more dedicated and willing to put in longer hours. This is usually more a perception than a fact. Single and childless people complain just as loud as those with families," this reader wrote. "It is an unfortunate fact, though, that workers with families pressure their single and childless peers into working the extra hours they can't.

Single and childless people are generally perceived to be free of 'responsibility' and therefore able to work the hours. True or false, this forces family-free workers to pick up the slack. The effect is twofold: It creates animosity between workers, and sends the message that childless workers are more 'dedicated.'"This reader offered several proposals for management changes to help ease tensions, making it possible for workers with children to advance their careers and for childless workers to not feel that they are bearing the brunt of the extra hours.

-- "All adults have responsibilities. All workers should be given the same consideration.

-- "Each employee should be evaluated based on his or her individual contribution and merit, regardless of the work hours. Hours and quality are not the same.

-- "IT departments need to be able to set their own schedules as a group, allowing each employee to have a say in his or her part in it."Another reader, an assistant vice president at a growing company who nonetheless averages 40 hours of work per week, had advice for individual employees.

"Between the soda breaks, smoke breaks, watercooler chat, personal e-mails, being a few minutes late from lunch, shopping lists, daydreaming, Web surfing, etc., I estimate the average worker is unproductive 20 percent of their working hours. Now, other than being a nonsmoker, I still do these things in limited amounts. But here's the point: I consider the most important aspect of my work (in my mind more important than that project assigned by the boss that will land me that next raise) is that I do everything possible to work as efficiently and effectively as I can. Why? Because it gets me home on time," this reader wrote. "My proposal: Over the next six months, make that 20 percent productive time, but use it to systematically get ahead of the game -- permanently!"This means automate those tasks you've always thought you could or one day would, and organize all of your workspace and methods to streamline everything you do. Find the way to handle each piece of paper just once. Invest the time to train your direct reports so that you can count on them and delegate to them.

"I'll wager that six months of such will enable you to buy back 10-plus weekly hours on an ongoing, permanent basis."How's that for a New Year's resolution? Here's hoping that individual employees and managers, as well as corporations as a whole, will find new ways to help all their employees balance work with the rest of their lives.

New Beginnings

I'm sorry to say that this is my last Career Currents column. I'm taking the next step in my own career and am moving on to become the careers reporter for the San Jose Mercury News. I will miss the lively opinions and comments I received from you about my columns, and I wish you all the best of luck in your careers.

(Margaret Steen edited InfoWorld's Enterprise Careers section from 1997 to 1999.)

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