Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Climbing the Corporate Ladder... or Paying Your Dues... or the Importance of Work-Life Balance

So I just read an extremely interesting article -- Climbing the corporate ladder — uphill both ways -- from Jennifer Nycz Conner (@JenConner on Twitter), a reporter for the Washington Business Journal.

The article explores generational issues, and discusses how "younger" workers expect to achieve work-life balance at their jobs and how many older executives find themselves "frustrated by what they see as a youthful sense of entitlement." Conner also wrote: "Many senior-level women argue that they toughed it out and succeeded. Shouldn’t the younger ones have the mettle to do the same thing?"

Which is to say, her article got me to thinking, and here are some of my thoughts:

1. I think it's admirable that today's senior-level women toughed it out and succeeded and struggled to balance careers and families. Kudos to them... 100%. Without them, women wouldn't be as prevalent in the workplace as they are today. These pioneers definitely paved the way for me and those coming up behind me. But why would they want their struggles to be for nothing? I think it's a little bit selfish to have an attitude of "everyone else should have to fight as I did to accomplish the same things." Isn't every generation supposed to want to make life easier for the next? Aren't we supposed to want to leave things better than we found them?

2. Paying dues: Don't confuse what I said above, though. I still believe 100% in the importance of paying your dues and earning privileges. But there's a difference between earning the privilege of working on the more prestigious projects and earning the privilege of having a life out of work. We all DESERVE a life outside of work. We all DESERVE work-life balance. (And, if we're being honest with ourselves, we all work better when we have that work-life balance.)

3. Flex time: If an employee can work on flex time -- can leave at 4 p.m. to make their exercise class or take their kid to soccer practice and then log on later that night to finish their work and meet any deadlines -- then why do we care when it's done? There's too much focus on how long someone works vs. how well they work or whether they do their job and do it well. The focus should always be on the end product, not on how long it took someone to get there. And shouldn't there be some reward for being productive?

I'm blessed right now with a boss who understands all this and who I think would agree with my sentiments. She judges me by the value of my work, not by the hours I sit in front of the computer. (Though I will admit that, right now, I definitely work beyond my official "work day," it's just that often that work is at home.) But I've also had many who haven't. And I've encountered more than one (older) co-worker who has issue with bosses that give leniency to the younger workers... or, in some cases, to any workers.

So my point? Pay your dues. Work hard. Do your job and do it well. And if you're a boss? Well, think about making your employees' work life better than your own.

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