As a television news anchor, Cynthia Demos’ schedule made her home life a challenge. Working nights and weekends meant she rarely put her 3-year-old son and 41/2-year-old daughter to bed or spent Saturdays at the park. So, three years ago, Demos began testing the waters to see if operating her own business making marketing videos would create an option for more family time.
Last month, Demos took a leap. Instead of renegotiating her contract, she left her job to take her venture to the next level — building her own video production/media training company and becoming managing partner at a Miami PR/event firm called The Dana Agency. It’s a career shift on a path to work-life balance that more parents are making.
“It was hard to leave my career of 23 years,” Demos says. “But for me it’s a better situation with two small children. I will still work a lot of hours, but they are my hours and that’s the difference.”
New research shows the top reason people leave their jobs is to seek out opportunities with a better work-life balance. Where just four years ago, people were leaving for more money, exit interviews now reveal at least a third of workers report a quest for a better work-life balance prompted their job switch, according to more than 200 conducted with HR directors by recruiting firm Robert Half.
Those who make the change say there almost always is a trigger, either work- or home-related. It could a life-changing event like the birth of a child, or it could be a new demanding boss, change in job responsibilities, or too many missed milestone events. It might even be a more family-friendly job offer.
For Denie Harris, the trigger was the lure of a better work situation for a mom with young daughters. Harris had been marketing director for two Mercedes Benz dealerships in South Florida when an opportunity came her way to hold a similar position at her daughters’ school. It was a decision that required weighing all factors.
The upside included seeing her children during the workday and sharing the same schedule with them. The tradeoff was leaving the corporate world and earning less.
“Everything in life is a give-and-take,” Harris says. “For a mom, working at your children’s school is the best possible place to be.”
In the struggle to achieve work-life balance, working mothers having been “quitting” jobs for more than a decade, opting to stay home with their children when financially possible. But today, both men and women are making career pivots or job changes, choosing work options that better fit their desired lifestyle. The shift often means serious contemplation of tradeoffs, including financial sacrifices, advancement and fulfillment.
Doug Bartel, who left his job as a TV news producer more than a decade ago for a public affairs position with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, says that what working fathers often look for is predictability and control over their schedules. They are starting their own law firms or becoming self-employed consultants to gain that control: “We realize we only get so many times to go to our child’s open house.”
Big salaries aren’t necessarily the golden handcuffs they used to be.
With the traditional 40-hour workweek becoming obsolete, a survey of nearly 9,700 full-time workers by the global firm of Ernst & Young found that most parents are willing to make career and financial concessions for work-life balance.
Cara Moulds was a high school assistant principal in Maryland, about to be promoted to principal when she requested a position as a career coach/teacher and went back to the classroom in her same school. Moulds says she was rarely home as an administrator and had a tense relationship with her teenage son. She knew the work demands would be even greater as a principal: “At the time, some people thought of it as quitting, but now they are envious that I was able to walk away because they are still stressed and I’m happy and I spent the last four years home with my son before he graduated high school.”
Moulds says she took a $25,000-a-year pay cut to make the job change. “We made the decision as a family,” she said. “In my field, it is almost unheard of to walk away and take a lower-paying job. But it was worth it.”
Making a career shift often takes creativity in seeking alternatives, powering through inevitable self-doubt, and lining up the support of family. It also helps that moms like Demos have other working parents who have taken the leap, too, and act as a support group or even as business referrals.
For some, the career shift is trial and error. Portia Jackson in Los Angeles knew she wanted an alternative when her career as an aerospace engineer kept her from seeing her young children most weekdays.
Initially, she pursued a career in financial planning. But after eight months, she realized she wanted to pivot again: “I thought I would love it because I could make my own schedule, but that was totally not the case. What you needed to be successful — going to networking events — was not what I was willing to do.”
So in March, Jackson shifted again and started her own business helping other busy professionals transition into their own full-time businesses.
“I probably end up working more, but the major difference is I can dictate when and how I work,” Jackson says. As a consultant, she says, “I don’t recommend people up and leave their jobs when they feel they’ve had enough.” Instead, she advises, “take time to think and plan how to change things for the better.”