Friday, July 24, 2009

Can You Really Have it All?

At a recent Human Resource Management conference in New Orleans, former General Electric CEO, Jack Welch, told the group the answer was essentially, no.

The Wall Street Journal reported Mr. Welch as saying, "There's no such thing as work-life balance. There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences."

Welch’s comments reflect the fact that the phrase ‘work-life balance’ has become almost synonymous with ‘having everything you want.’ He is telling us we have to make choices.

This may be a difficult pill to swallow, especially for the Generation Y-ers described by Bruce Tulgan in his recent book Not Everyone Gets a Trophy.

But the truth is… not everyone can get the big raise, not everyone can get the promotion, not everyone can be the boss, and not everyone can be the CEO.


I think most of us understand this on some level. Women of my generation were determined to change the rules and break through the glass ceiling … something we are largely still striving to do today. We made choices like delaying having children, or foregoing a family altogether. Some chose to put their careers above all else.

I made the choice to become a manager before having children. I chose to ride the Mommy Track for a few years, until I woke up one day bored to death with my job. I chose not to have my children raised by a nanny. I could go on.

Did my choices affect my career? Absolutely! Did they affect my family? Absolutely!

Think about the choices you make every day…

It might be something simple like deciding to take that call from home instead of driving into the office so you can be at your son’s little league game on time. Reasonable, right?

Sure, but your colleague made the drive and was there in person. Which of you will the big bosses in the room remember?

Or, it might be something big, like turning down a chance at an overseas assignment because you don’t want to uproot your family. Again, reasonable, right?

Absolutely, but one of your colleagues will jump at that job and get that coveted ‘international experience.’ Who will have the edge when it’s time for that next big promotion?

And even though we may dwell on it more, this is not an issue that affects only women. At the risk of being plagued with negative comments, I might argue that it’s easier for men… traditional gender roles make it more acceptable for men to consistently choose work over family. But whether it’s leaving work early to coach a soccer team, taking paternity leave, or just leaving work on time to get to rock band practice (because you always wanted to be a rock star), balancing work and life affects everyone in Corporate America.

I, for one, agree with Jack Welch and appreciate his straight talk on this topic. What do you think?

1 comment:

Firefly said...

I recently ran across this article by Janet Bagnell in the National Post.

Ms. Bagnell's premise is that women do indeed have it all, as evidenced by the women in senior positions who have children. Yes, that does prove that women can be successful in those positions. However, it doesn't prove whether or not they do have it all. What school events are they missing? What kind of time do they spend with their families? Don't get me wrong... I think it's fantastic that they have reached the positions they have. I still maintain there are only so many hours in the day!