Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Workplace Flexibility, Family Time, Happiness

I've recently begun to truly appreciate the flexible schedule that is the hallmark of today's working moms. With all of the whining I've been doing lately about how much I wish I could be a SAHM I've been neglecting to see how great I really have it. Of course, a big part of my change in attitude is that I've really started to take full advantage of the flexible schedule possibilities at my office. I changed my work hours from 9-6 to 7-4 and I can't emphasize enough how much that change has improved my quality of life. I'm also making a point of using my work from home days to, well, work from home, rather than going in to the office.

It isn't always easy, though. No matter how much a workplace may have official policies put in place that encourage employees to use flexible schedules and work locations, when it comes down to it those of us who use these perks are often seen as slackers. I often hear people in my office say that the people who work from home are "not the type that want to move ahead". And many people don't hide their annoyance at the fact that you can't make that 4:00 meeting because you're on your way out the door. Never mind that you've been there since 7 in the morning (well, maybe a few minutes after 7).

That's why I was excited to learn from the post in the NY Times Surprisingly, Family Time Has Grown, that our society's work norms are actually changing. According to the post:
Before 1995 women spent an average of 12 hours a week attending to the needs of their children. By 2007, that number had risen to 21.2 hours a week for college educated women...
I have to admit I'm a little skeptical of the study. I mean, if moms before 1995 were only spending 12 hours a week with the their kids that leaves 42 hours a week when the kids weren't sleeping or in school, but weren't with their parents. That's a lot of hours. What in the world were they doing? But lets suspend our disbelief and assume that these stats are accurate. What has caused this change in society? Is it purely a result of the fact that more women are in the work place? Is it a reaction against the long hours this generation saw their parents working? Is technology, despite the 45 minutes I spent at work today waiting for my computer to boot up, actually improving our lives??

Another recent post from the NY Times, The Sandra Bullock Trade (stupid title, I agree) talks about research that shows that happiness is much more of a result of personal relationships rather than income. One aspect of this article that I found particularly interesting, is that commuting is mentioned as the daily activity that decreases happiness the most. While that seems obvious, the word apparently hasn't gotten to the people in offices across the country who disparage the "working at home types". Maybe if those people didn't have to commute as often they wouldn't be such assholes.

Is our society restructuring itself to reflect a better work life balance, or is this just a swing of the pendulum? How can we, as individuals in our society, promote family and leisure time as being more important than large salaries that allow us to buy Stuff. And how can we make our priorities better reflected within the framework of the 2 income families that seem to be predominating today? To me much of this is connected to our maternity and paternity leave (or lack thereof) culture as well. But that's another post for another evening...

1 comment:

  1. Brad and I have been discussing this in our lives too. His decision to go to law school was a tough one. We chose careers that had flexible hours so we could have more time to live our lives. Unfortunately, both those industries are dying and you just can't make a living on them. We have decided, though, that we prefer not to live in a huge city like Atlanta, but if we have to because of the job, we would rather buy a condo in the heart of the city to avoid the commute than to spend 1-2 hours a day in the car away from home or work.
    In addition, we have decided to do something drastic for the time during law school. The plan was going to be to put Monica in daycare and Luke in after school care and preschool while I worked full time. Medical transcription is a job you can do from home, but only after you have about 2 years of experience. We could not bear the idea of putting Monica in daycare, so I will be moving into my parents with the kids and Brad will come stay with us on the weekends. My parents are semi-retired, so I can work and leave Monica with my mom, a much better environment than daycare in my opinion. It's a tough decision, but we are hoping it will work for the best! In this economy, there are so many tough decisions, I feel like this is minor compared to many people's dilemmas.