We’ve Got Work-Life Balance All Wrong

You may have caught me on TV fumbling for the first half hour of the panel discussion on work-life balance on Talking Point a couple weeks ago. If you did, I apologise for fumbling for the first half hour.

If you haven’t, it’s here:

Again, sorry.

But the Blogfather had his reprieve when a caller decided to complain about her colleague’s misuse of childcare leave (and I took on the latter half of the show rather swimmingly). I was told the disdain showed in my reaction, and my point was also made clear: childcare leave isn’t just for when your child falls sick and no one else is there to take care of the little fella.

But as the discussion wore on, the panel also started realising that (a) workplace discrimination is shockingly prolific, and (b) the discussion on work-life balance in Singapore seems to overwhelmingly revolve around working mothers, and very little, if any, of anyone else – working dads, stay-at-home parents, single parents, non-parent guardians, children taking care of their elderly parents, spouses taking care of debilitated spouses, long-term live-in partners… I think we need to recognise that “family” is a much bigger word than our state currently understands it to be?

“The younger set of dads who want to be family men, we get discriminated against at work.” says father of 2, Winston…

Posted by Talking Point on Thursday, 9 July 2015

That said, I think we’ve been excessively over-reliant on the government (and probably even hiring organizations) to dictate the path forward on the work-life balance issue. The Marriage and Parenthood Package was never meant to promote procreation and push Total Fertility Rate like we all thought (I said as much to The New Paper 2 years ago as well). What it does set out to do is to provide a better support structure for existing families and soften the ground for couples already looking to settle down. And we mumble under our breaths that our companies are not doing enough, out of earshot of our supervisors, while we’re still working in these companies. Seriously, how does that work for you?

Joe Augustin said at the 2013 Dads for Life Conference that bears repeating, “I hear people putting the blame on or giving the power to somebody else – you know, time doesn’t allow, this doesn’t allow, the pressures of this and that… No, it’s you. I mean, really, it’s up to you. You decide.” It’s only been 3 short years since I decided to follow that advice with aplomb, and take matters into my own hands career-wise, and those that follow me also know it hasn’t been all smooth-sailing. But I can tell you a few things that worked for me:

1. It starts from the moment you draft your cover letter.

work-life-cover-letter

In addition to committing to doing my job during working hours, I’ve taken to stating my position as a family man in my cover letters. If you think that’s going to turn prospective employers right off, you’re absolutely right. If a prospective employer decides he won’t consider you because he can’t work with the priorities you’ve set, it’s not a company you want to work for anyway.

work-life-cover-letter-inset

2. Treat your working life like your love life.

Think about it. The job interview is like a first date; both prospective employer and candidate should looking for points of compatibility. In fact, job interviews shouldn’t be treated like a one-way assessment. Then comes the second interview (second date), letter of offer (“Want to go stead?”), confirmation (getting serious), promotions (third base, moving in together, joint accounts, etc.), when a job becomes a career (marriage), and when you decide it’s not working out (if you haven’t established your career foothold yet, it’s a break up; if you have, it’s a divorce). And if you don’t like who you’re working with, that old dating adage also applies here: there are always other fish in the sea.

Now, if you were to make the same kinds of considerations with your job as you would your eventual life partner, wouldn’t you then take extra care to ensure you have the necessary compatible traits to build a cooperative, symbiotic relationship with your company (spouse) before settling down and settling in, and not end up enslaved in your circumstance?

Oh, wait…

3. If you need something addressed with your employer, just ask.

This works a lot more than people think. When you open up discussions with your boss about something you need, be it needing time off to fly kite with your kid (yes, I was serious when I said that on the show), flexi-work arrangements, or even a salary review based on the home finances you need to take care of, a lot of times something can be worked out.

work-life-fly-kite

That said, if “just asking” doesn’t work out, it also serves as a useful gauge as to how much you’re really valued as an individual in the eyes of your employer, and you can (and should) decide where to go from there.

4. Prioritise before compromise – then be ready to compromise.

“Jobs can change, and careers are never set in stone, but family sticks with you for the rest of your life whether you like it or not — or whether your workplace likes it or not.”

That’s my justification, but circumstances will differ from individual to individual. However one decides to live, as long as you have your priorities well-considered, no one can or should judge. But remember that ultimately the company you work for still has a bottom line to maintain, and that is the primary reason why you were hired in the first place – to maintain the company’s bottom line. And when you knock on your boss’s door to “just ask”, expect one of two things: to be rejected, or to negotiate a compromise.

Learning the art of compromise can be quite rewarding; it’s the reason why aunties love the thrill of the bargain, and salespeople can achieve such satisfaction from coming away from a tightfisted auntie with alternative offers that don’t involve a price reduction (ah, see? That’s skill, bols).

5. Accept that change is needed when it’s needed.

I was going to say “don’t fear change”, but if there’s one thing I learnt the last 3 years, it’s that fear is useful for prudently evaluating possible paths ahead, though it should still never be a factor for not moving ahead with decisions.

If you’re already in a place you’re not happy with, and you know you can do better, then really, grow some balls and go do better, fopr the sake of yourself, the ones you love and the ones who love you (and I’m talking beyond spouse and kids here). You are the only one who knows what’s best for you, and no one else.

And you are the only one capable enough to be the master of your own fate.

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