Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Ever Work Till Midnight But Feel Guilty About Leaving the Office At 5?

Chapter 5: The Roll Of Circumstance Part 14

In that last post, Mary came back from maternity leave to find herself at a disadvantage because many of the key decisions were made after hours.  And moreover, her subordinates kept going directly to her boss, as they had done when she was out.

What was worse, Mary had to defend those decisions to the rest of the department.  “To sit in all hands meetings where senior managers were pointing fingers, and then I am the one who has to stand up and defend decisions I wasn’t making.  That got really old.  That and the hours.   The sheer amount of work.  I was putting the kids to bed, and [working] up to midnight every night.”

One of Mary’s team left for another role in the company, and she was quickly overwhelmed.  “I couldn’t hire quickly enough.  There were a couple of months where I was working 80+ hour weeks.  I would ask my husband to take the kids to the zoo on Saturday so I could have the whole day to catch up.”

Nowhere in this part of the conversation did Mary mention love or devotion to the company.  It was no longer about a family atmosphere, or changing the world and in fact, I don’t think she even liked the company. Mary was driven by other factors.  She worked each night until midnight, often worked a full day on Saturday, yet felt guilty about leaving work at 5.  “I think I thought I was going to get fired.  It was right after the merger, and there was all this pressure.  All these managers from Boston who wanted to know what was going on.  The pressure was crazy.”  To further compound the stress, Mary was the sole breadwinner.  “If I got fired from my job, I didn’t see the monthly bills [getting paid]; everyone was on my  [health] insurance.”


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CNN’s Epic Failure Of Values On Affordable Care Act Coverage

In the space between Chapter’s 1 & 2 of Busting Your Corporate Idol: How To Reconnect With Values & Regain Control Of Your Life, here is an old school post about values and priorities.

As  rule, I don’t talk about political issues here, but the way the media handled the Supreme Court’s healthcare decision has pulled me close to the fray.  This morning CNN had a countdown clock on screen until the time of the SCOTUS decusion on the Affordable Health Care Act.  10:00 came and went, and still no decision.  The announcers acted like the kid that had to go to the bathroom, but won’t leave because they are afraid they will miss something.  And as my daughters and I watched, we felt the tension.

Then, it flashed on the screen.  People were seen running out of the courthouse, and the decision was in.  The individual mandate was struck down.  This is a law that has divided the country.  Some people see it as a door to bring health care to tens of millions of people, others see it as an unwanted government encrouchment on individual liberty.  This is a core values issue.  So with the decision in, CNN immediately started talking about the presidential election. “What would Mitt Romney do?”  Really?

But something did not smell right to me, so I switched to MSNBC, which had the opposite on the screen: Individual Mandate Upheld.  So then I went to the NY Times website.  And they said something like this.  “The Supreme Court Decision is in.  We are reading it, and when we understand what it says, we will release a flood of coverage.”

CNN had it wrong.

Values On Display

Every company has a set of shared values that define its culture.  They often don’t correlate with the set of the values in the company handbook, and certainly include some subtle and unconscious behaviors by employees.  It’s like the story about the fish that doesn’t know what water is – it’s hard to see the things we take for granted.  Values set priorities and guide decisions.

Values Drive Priorities Which In Turn Influence The Underlying Values

The Times and CNN both had the same data, but acted in very different ways, which I think reflects different underlying values in those companies.

For each news organization, which is more important, getting there fast, or getting it right?

I see a lot of handwringing about the 24 hours news cycle killing the quality of news.  Well guess what, I wanted to know the answer right away, went to the NY Times website (which I routinely check multiple times a day from my iPhone) and was told it was more important to give the right answer.

CNN:  This is a mistake that didn’t need to happen.  If you really care about quality, look in the mirror and figure out how to drive a cultural change.

A Quick Note On Freedom

While we’re talking about about healthcare, lets talk about freedom.  If you hated your job, had 2 years salary in the bank, would you quit your job if it meant that your family lost its health insurance till you found a new one?  No way.  In Chapter 1 of my book Busting Your Corporate Idol, I made reference to the two months my wife and I spent preparing for my departure from the corporate world.  And a major topic was health insurance.  If my wife didn’t have a secure job at a company with great health insurance benefits, I would not have become a stay at home parent, and followed my dream to be an author.

I recently interviewed a VP at one of the twenty largest companies in the world.  He lives in a house well below his means because it gives him freedom.  A large mortgage is unquestionably something that constrains choices – that bill needs to be paid, and that can mean going along with things at work that may be personally distasteful.  He maintains a good work life balance in part because he knows that he could, in a pinch, take a salary cut and not lose his house.

And health insurance is even a bigger deal financially than a mortgage.  The number one cause of personal bankruptcy?  Health insurance bills.  (More here.)

Severing the link between employment and health insurance will go a long way towards correcting the chronic overwork epidemic in the United States. Why?  Because it will be one fewer reason that people stay in unhappy work situations.  The Affordable Care Act is an important step in severing that link.

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