The Career Tradeoff-Combining Employment and Family
Ladan Nikravan, 08-09-2011
Traditionally, the father in a family took on the role of working outside the home to earn money while the mother stayed home to care for the children. But, as time progressed, many mothers slowly chose to work full-time. More recently, however, full-time work outside the home has lost its appeal to mothers. In 2007, of working mothers with children ages 17 and under, just 21 percent said full-time work is the ideal situation for them, down from 32 percent a decade previously, according to a Pew Research Center survey. Six in 10 — up from 48 percent in 1997 —working mothers said part-time work would be their ideal and 19 percent said they would prefer not working outside the home at all.
Despite the number of flexibility related accommodations available, working parents struggle when trying to balance their family and working commitments.
“More and more professionals feel challenged by the collective pressures of a demanding work life, a hectic personal life and a desire to find fulfillment in both,” said Allison O’Kelly, CEO of Mom Corps, a staffing organization that connects employers with mothers looking for flexible work options.
According to O’Kelly, the business environment is at a crossroads. The way a majority of corporate America goes to work no longer aligns with the way American families conduct their daily lives. Because of this growing disconnect, employees — particularly those from dual working families — find it difficult, if not impossible, to work the traditional 9 to 5 job.
“You don’t have to sacrifice professional standing, career advancement or salary in order to have a little more control over your time,” O’Kelly said. “More employees are asking for flexibility in schedules to better manage their work-life balance, and more companies are offering options such as telecommuting, alternative work hours and four-day work weeks in recognition of that.”
Flexibility alone doesn’t fix the tipping work-life scale, however. A survey conducted during the last six months by career coach Amber Rosenberg revealed that working mothers cite guilt as their No. 1 challenge: guilt that they have to leave their children to go to work and guilt that they have to leave work early to pick up their kids from daycare. Ninety-one percent of working mothers interviewed said they feel they’re struggling to juggle kids, career, marriage and personal time.
To help parents overcome their internal battles, organizations can alter scheduling to allow employees to adjust the time or place their work is completed to suit individual needs. This can mean compressing hours into fewer days, starting and ending workdays at different times or doing some work from home.
“Some of the general issues that influence work-life balance include time, flexibility and resources for unexpected situations,” said Karen Hurley, business development director at Cultural Care Au Pair, a cultural exchange program that offers families flexible, live-in child care. “Parents seeking work-life balance want to spend more quality time with their children and their spouses. They also need more time to spend doing things for oneself, like exercise and volunteering. They need flexibility in their schedule to take care of family needs.”
According to Hurley, having a plan or strategy in place for live-in-child care helps with life’s unexpected events. In fact, in a recent study conducted by Cultural Care Au Pair, 90 percent of 2,500 families surveyed stated they have better work-life balance because they have an au pair. Seventy-eight percent of parents who had previously had their children in daycare centers stated that the more flexible schedule an au pair program provides allows them to be more flexible with their work hours.
Unless parents’ budgets are flexible, however, au pairs are not a simple solution. According to au pair staffing consultancy Au Pair Selection Advice, the annual cost for live-in au pair assistance is nearly $21,000. This is a hefty bill, especially for minorities, since a Pew Research analysis of newly-available data from a 2009 government survey indicated that the median wealth of white households is 20 times greater than that of black households and 18 times greater than that of Hispanic households.
To confront these high expenses, Cultural Care Au Pair has partnered with organizations such as United Airlines, Allstate Insurance, Boeing and CVS Caremark to offer child care choice to their working parents that is relevant, flexible and more affordable.
“There’s a movement for companies to be a one-stop shopping place where employees can access not only information but services,” Hurley said. “These services go beyond the duties of work roles. Organizations need to consider reliable child care options and overall flexibility for working parents to make sure they’re engaged in the office and at home. An employee isn’t benefiting the business if not fully engaged.”
Ladan Nikravan is an associate editor of Diversity Executive magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.