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Christopher Thompson's Closing the Deal: Family balance is a challenge

December 30. 2012 1:19AM

There is one aspect of my career that I have always struggled with, and I know I'm not alone. It's the balance between work and family. It's something that is a constant battle that I can't seem to figure out a perfect solution for.

In June, the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics published the "American Time Use Survey," which detailed the activities people do throughout the course of a day and how much time they spend doing each activity. I found the findings quite interesting.

According to the survey, the average American between the ages of 25 to 54 with children under the age of 18 spent an average of 8.8 hours per day working in 2011. They spent 7.6 hours sleeping and about 1.1 hours eating and drinking.

Unfortunately, the category "Caring for Others" came in close to the bottom. The survey found people spent an average of 1.2 hours per day caring for others, which I interpret as caring for their children. Even more concerning, was that people spent twice as much time (2.5 hours) doing leisure and sports than they did caring for their children. That's pretty sad.

While the results of the survey weren't too surprising, I thought the average hours worked per day was a bit low. While 8.8 hours is a good part of the day, I know a lot of people who work a heck of a lot more than that every day. I suppose it's how the numbers average out. Some work less; some work more. Still, the results indicate something we know all too well. We spend more time working than we do anything else in our lives.

Throughout my career in management, I have learned one extremely valuable lesson. People who are happy outside of work are more productive when they are at work. It's something I have seen both sides of. Those who have turmoil and stress happening in their personal lives take that into their work and don't perform as well. And the opposite is true. Those who have a sense of normalcy and happiness in their personal lives are more productive. I haven't seen a situation that proved otherwise.

Of course as managers and leaders, we can't influence or control the personal lives of people on our teams. However, we can create an environment in the workplace where people have the opportunity to have more of a balance in their family life. And trust me, people who work for a company that understands the work and family balance are more loyal and productive. Here are a few suggestions.

. Be flexible. Here's the reality. With most jobs, you can work from anywhere and be productive. Implement technologies that allow people to work remotely if they need to. If there is a snow storm and school is canceled, don't add to their stress. Let people work from home. If someone has a doctor appointment at 10 a.m., it's pointless for them to come into the office in the morning. Let people work remotely if they have the ability to do so. If they don't have the ability to work remotely, get with the times and implement a solution.

. Let people make up time. If someone has an appointment for their child, mandate that they go. Instead of giving people stress about attending important family events, create an environment that allows people to make up for the time they missed, whether it's in or out of the office. Keep in mind that the most important thing is the job getting done. It's not how you do it; it's if you do it. My favorite management rule for people with children is this: Never miss a sporting event, never miss a school play and never miss a medical appointment for your children.

. Stay connected. Good managers and leaders know their people. They know what's happening in their family life. While it's never good to get too personal, as a manager, you should have a good pulse on what is happening in people's lives outside of work. Do you know the names, ages and grades of their children? Do you know what sports they play that keep the parents going nonstop? This is a very simple way to show people you care and at the same time, stay connected.

Always remember, regardless of what your company does, if you manage, you are in the people business.

Christopher Thompson ( writes Closing the Deal weekly for the Sunday News.

Christopher Thompson's Closing The Deal

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