How to manage work and family life

How do men in demanding jobs ensure that they are also good fathers to their children?

The workforce has changed; you no longer have a job for life. You can’t take out a mortgage and know that you are going to be able to pay it. People have to travel a lot more for their work. They’re away a lot.

One father said, “I don’t see my three young sons awake between Sunday night when they are put to bed and the following Saturday morning when they wake up. I leave for work each day before they wake up, and I am home at night after they have gone to bed.” It isn’t possible for someone like this to be a good father with work pressures like that. That isn’t the way to go about it. Fathers like this one are driven by something that makes them want to work those hours. Until you become aware of why you are overworking, you won’t be able to succeed at being a good father. Your kids are going to grow up resenting you. You have got to try to understand why it is that you overwork.

It’s a common thing – men work more than they actually have to. The pressures of their jobs aren’t as intense as they may make out. We all want significance in life. A lot of men are working so that someone will say, “You are wonderful”.

It’s about status in someone’s eyes – we all want to be significant. We want someone to like us. This happens for kids in the playground and for teenagers. Teenagers submit to peer pressure because they want to be seen as doing something significant, whether their behaviour is good or bad. For a lot of men, sometimes they are trying to please someone, or they’re trying to prove themselves to someone. That is probably one of the biggest driving forces. Of course, we are all driven by wanting to do well and achieve. This is about people who overdo it.

Does working less affect your career path?

That person who said he doesn’t see his kids between Sunday and Saturday could work less, and that wouldn’t have an adverse effect on his career. People feel that their career path will be affected by working less, and it’s a false assumption.

There’s this thing called the bell curve. If you don’t do enough, it is not enough. When you do too much, it becomes counterproductive. Then, there is the right amount. For example, if you don’t eat enough you starve. If you eat too much you get fat. The right amount is just the right amount. Everything in life needs a balance.

If you overwork it actually becomes counterproductive. Four things happen. Number one, you get tired, you start to make mistakes, and then you spend half your time trying to correct the mistakes. Number two, you get stale, you lose your creativity, and you lose the ability to stand back from your job and think about where you should be going. Number three, you don’t feel personally satisfied in life because you don’t have a rich and well-balanced life. Number four, you get sick. When you get sick, you have to take time off work. Then the stresses placed upon you and your family from overwork may then mean that your wife may decide to leave you, your kids may turn their backs on you, and things will start spiralling downhill. Your productivity doesn’t actually increase with more hours of work.

Some studies have suggested that fewer hours of work doesn’t necessarily result in lower productivity. It depends whereabouts on the bell curve you are. If you are over the top of the bell curve, you can pull back and you will actually find that you are more productive.

Employers need to be aware of this as well. One should be able to use those studies to say that if you allow men to become good fathers and give them the time and flexibility to do so, their productivity will actually improve. That way, they will have to do it, because they have an obligation to their clients, stakeholders or shareholders to improve productivity. There is no excuse for them to make people overwork because it just won’t work for the company.

It has to come from the top down. You have to convince the bosses that it is a good thing to do, both morally and economically. This needs to be bottom up as well. Unions are very good at seeing these sorts of things and pressurising, and even groups or individuals are lobbying to say, “Look, I want a career – but I want a good quality family life as well.”

Your boss vs. your kids – who will love you?

Tim Winton, an author, had a great quote: “You know what these guys are trying to do?  They are trying to get their boss to love them.  The funny thing is, their boss is never going to love them. When it is time to cut costs, the boss will cut them. But back at home, there are kids that will love you anyway; you don’t have to ask for them to love you. You don’t have to work for it, you actually have to put kids off loving you.  It’s a funny thing; here is somebody who is never going to love you and you work to try to get it, and here is somebody who is always going to love you unless you destroy it, and yet men go about trying to destroy it.”

There is a second aspect: it is simply true that a lot of men are selfish. They come home at six o’clock at night, and it’s the dog end of the day when the kids are tired and ratty – the witching hour. They don’t want to be at home when the kids are fighting, because they will have to be a peacemaker, help with the cooking, and help with the bathing. They love the idea of coming home after all the kids are sitting in bed waiting for dad to read them a bedtime story. Many men don’t need to be at work, but will make an excuse to stay there to avoid that terrible hour.

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