It’s interesting that we did not hear a great deal of talk about “work/family balance” during the recent recession. Maybe that’s because anyone who actually had a job was grateful and anyone who was at home with family was concerned about feeding them rather than balancing them.
Now that we are beginning to see some light at the end of the recessionary tunnel, W/FB is coming back in style. Before it regains substantive traction, let’s call it what it is -- yet another ad slogan. Like, “Be all you can be!” or “A diamond is forever” or “I want my MTV!” Ads for “work/family balance” are designed to engender (an appropriate choice of word) ennui, anxiety, stress, and sheer wishful thinking on the part of women debating the merits of staying at home or going to work. And, as we all know, when
Madison Ave. creates enough angst, they offer up a solution -- “GO SHOP!” to assuage your tensions away.
But, things have changed in the 21st Century, thank heaven. We hope women at, in, or near the workforce have more emotional and innate intelligence than the Spin Sisters give them credit. Today’s women recognize that the challenge -- taken from a basic business approach to problem-solving -- is simply one of effective and efficient resource allocation.
The home and family are The Most Basic Business Unit, with many similarities to the other business unit -- the workplace. What are the tasks that need to be accomplished? What are the timeframes? Who has what accountability? Who can deliver what results best? The team in the workplace has many similarities to that other team in the household.
The problems, or stressors, or imbalances arise from a misallocation of scarce resources such that the work envisioned does not get done. Or, worse, only some team members feel accountable for the work, while others shirk. To alter that imbalance, sometimes leaders have to find other team members who are more self-motivated. The incorrect solution would be for one team members to decide, on her own, to take over the responsibilities of the slackard. An alternative might be for the responsible team member to re-negotiate for expanded compensation enabling her to purchase additional human resources to accomplish the required tasks -- replace the shirkers, expand available staff, shuffle the workload either at the workplace or in the home workplace.
Doing the work of others is not a viable long-term option. It merely encourages slackers to slack off more.
Women who undervalue themselves and their work in negotiations for their services dig a very deep hole that traps them in under-earning that persists through post-retirement. You cannot “give” more than your employers are willing to compensate you compared to the next best opportunity available in the marketplace. If there is some other woman in that marketplace who is so desperate to underbid a currently employed woman that she is willing to drive down the wage-scale to below-market levels, then she is digging the hole faster than the employed woman -- for both of them. In the long run, it takes a realistic assessment of value to establish fair and reasonable market prices -- which will compensate workers appropriately and get the work done without waste.
The same logic applies in the home. If some workers in the home shirk their fair and reasonable share of the workload, someone else will have to decide whether to perform the services, cut them back for everyone, or find alternative resources. If “she” willingly accepts a modus operandi that “she has to do all the work,” then she is allowing an imbalanced marketplace to prevail. She must insist on a renegotiation of workloads or responsibilities or an increase in compensation to attract supplemental resources to whom responsibilities can be delegated.
Examples include: ordering food delivered rather than shopping; day care or child care for offspring; splitting the pick-up duties after school; paying for house cleaning services; or cutting back on discretionary spending by all. Everything is on the table.
“Balance” is a euphemism for “perfection.” There is no such thing as a perfect marketplace. Business-educated people know we can only progress toward that nirvana by “husbanding our resources” (another interesting choice of words). We aspire to move away from an imperfect, inefficient market state because that is where resources are squandered. Ultimately, squandered resources disappear. Intentionally wasting resources is undesirable. Well-allocated resources produce increased value for all market participants.
Resources can be a combination of people, information, and money. Trade-offs can occur. Some resources can be substituted for others, up to a point. But, whatever the mix, resources are required to perform the work in the most effective and efficient manner. Keeping that goal in mind strategically is much more desirable than some fairy-tale dream-state of work/family balance.