Behind every job, a juggling act
OK, you've won the promotion. Now how do you keep from losing your life?
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Automakers are experimenting with policies that allow employees to balance the demands of work and family.
Companies such as Ford Motor Co. are creating job-sharing options for employees who need more time at home. Toyota offers a mothers-at-work program to accommodate nursing mothers. And increasing numbers of companies allow executives to telecommute.
These programs have become essential for companies that want to maintain high job satisfaction. Consider the results of the 2005 job satisfaction study published by the Society for Human Resource Management in Alexandria, Va., whose members include more than 200,000 human resources professionals.
Benefits, money, balance
According to the survey, the balance between work and family life ranks third among "very important" aspects of employee job satisfaction. Benefits ranked first and compensation ranked second.
"Flexibility in balancing work and personal life appears to be even more important for employees under the age of 35," says Jen Jorgensen, a spokeswoman for the group. "It's a big concern for both men and women in generations X and Y. It's no longer just a women's issue."
The society has conducted annual surveys of employees and personnel professionals since 2002. Job security, flexibility, compensation and benefits consistently are top concerns. They outpace job satisfaction, opportunities for advancement, relationships with supervisors and independence.
Among respondents 35 and younger, the leading issue was the balance between family and work. That issue ranked third among workers from 36 to 55 and was not among the top five issues for employees older than 55.
Companies now recognize the need for a balance between work and home. General Motors executive Karen Leggio remembers traveling when she was starting a family.
"I flash back to going between Spring Hill (Tenn.) and Detroit - me with a newborn baby, and walking through the airport with GM executives," says Leggio, 42, who is vice president of global purchasing and supply chain for GM Latin America, Africa and Middle East.
"One would be pushing a stroller; one would be carrying a diaper bag. Older gentlemen were lugging car seats. They (GM) were always very supportive for family balance. Whenever I ask for it, I have gotten it, whether it is working different hours or shifts to be able to be with my kids, or whatever."
Female executives have learned to juggle the demands of family and work without losing focus in either arena. But it helps when a spouse can pitch in.
Sheila Vaden-Williams is a Harvard-trained lawyer who is president of the National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers.
"There was a time when I was traveling up to 175 days a year," she recalls.
She and her husband, James, have three children. When Vaden-Williams, 46, gives a business associate her home phone number, she warns, "You'll probably hear children in the background."
The entire family attended her association's 2005 national gathering and presented her with a special award. Key to her support system are her father and her husband, whom she describes as "100 percent committed to family."
Laptops, cell phones and BlackBerrys allow executives to work at home. But that technology can intrude on family time unless the executive takes steps to prevent it.
Some time is off-limits
Kitty Van Bortel, a Subaru and Ford dealer in Victor, N.Y., has an almost sacred time-out. She spends weekday evenings from 7 to 9 with her young daughter, Patricia. And Sundays belong to Patricia. No cell phones. No business.
She made that policy stick by ensuring that her staff could take care of business in her absence.
Daughter Patricia "is the number one person in my life," says Van Bortel, 51, who married at age 43 and had her daughter the following year. "I held out as long as possible for marriage and family. Being a mother has changed the way I feel about business," she says.
Executives are expected to travel, which can strain home life. But planning can ease the pain for children and spouses. The Chrysler group's Cynthia Conn Sidoti says she can deal with almost anything as long as she gets advance notice.
"I travel to Germany once a quarter," says Sidoti, 43, director of paint and energy management. "These trips are preplanned. I have always said with planning and a little advance notice, (my family) can work around anything together. The key is to involve the entire family in the planning process."
But advance planning can't solve all scheduling conflicts. Sidoti has endured her share of midnight cookie-baking shifts for children's school events.
Like many other automakers, Ford has developed programs that let employees work away from their offices, share jobs and restructure work hours. With supervisory approval, an employee can work an abbreviated schedule with reduced benefits and pay.
Employees seeking fewer hours can request job sharing on the company's Web site. Three percent of Ford's salaried employees take advantage of some aspect of Ford's program, says Rosalind Cox, director of diversity and work life. Of those, 80 percent are women.
Other Ford programs include telecommuting and flex-time work schedules. For example, an employee can put in extra time for nine days, then take an additional day off.
"These choices really reduce the amount of stress some employees feel when they are trying to balance work and personal time," Cox says.
In Torrance, Calif., Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. offers a number of programs for 4,000 women and men in sales, design and finance operations. This year Toyota introduced geriatric counseling to help employees deal with aging family members.
The company also has a mothers-at-work program that provides lactation rooms for nursing mothers. It contributes to membership expenses for employees at Bally's and 24 Hour Fitness clubs around the country. And it encourages support groups for employees with specific concerns - for example, children with special needs.
Toyota plans to study the impact of these programs on job satisfaction and employee retention.
"We've just started benchmarking," says Mary Montague, corporate manager for organizational development at Toyota Motor Sales.
While these and other programs seem to be effective, the employee's own outlook is the key to a successful balance between work and home life.
When Margaret Woodard turned 30, she formulated a philosophy to guide herself. "Life is not a dress rehearsal," says Woodard, 44, who is the marketing chief for ADP Dealer Services, of Hoffman Estates, Ill. "Compare yourself today with what you thought of yourself yesterday," she says. "Work and personal time are not competing aspects of life. I don't think of it (her profession) as a job. It's an extension of who I am as a person."
Chrysler's Cynthia Conn Sidoti, second from left, vacations in Hawaii with children Lindsay and Alex and husband Carl.
You can reach Jenny King at email@example.com.