In work-life balance, it’s OK not to be a superhero

Matthew Gutierrez
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Pittsburgh – — Even though he’s the chief executive of Tobii Dynavox, a maker of devices and software that help people with disabilities communicate, Fredrik Ruben doesn’t want to be a superhero.

Married and with three kids, Ruben routinely turns off his phone for hours on end, trusting co-workers to take up anything that pops up. To de-stress, he’ll go for a run outside without headphones to clear his mind. This way, he’s fresh when back in the office or at family events.

“I don’t want to pretend I’m the guy who’s always working,” Ruben said. “I’m not Superman.”

Plenty of managers and employees don’t find juggling work and life as easy. Climbing the career ladder without sacrificing family time presents a challenge. Many employees fear job security or failing to make quota if they scrap the office for time at home.

A 2015 survey by Ernst & Young found that 46 percent of managers globally are working more than 40-hour weeks, and that 4-in-10 say their hours have increased over the past five years. Across the employee spectrum, about half of working parents say that balancing work and life is very or somewhat difficult.

“Finding time for me” is the most prevalent challenge faced by millennial parents who are managers in the U.S. (75 percent), followed by “managing personal and professional life” (67 percent). Ernst & Young dubbed the millennial generation as “Generation Go.”

So, when you’re a manager at work, how do you block out time for a healthy family life, too? Some swear by hard-and-fast rules to maintain the stability. One couple let the balance happen naturally. Others learned the hard way.

Robert Atkin, clinical professor of management at the University of Pittsburgh, said the easiest way for a firm’s employees to maintain a work-life balance is when it’s ingrained in the culture from the top down.

“There are a lot of things a firm can do to help employees manage stress,” he said. In highly successful firms, each employee’s balance is “broadly consistent with the culture of the organization.”

Two or three years ago, Tony Pavlik, Tobii Dynavox’s vice president of global operations, was constantly wired to email. He called himself an “absolute workaholic.” But that changed when Ruben, the CEO, and other co-workers began pressing him to achieve a better balance.

Pavlik is making efforts to lessen stress at work. Now he begins each day with 10 minutes of mindfulness. At lunch, he walks outside. On vacation, he won’t answer an email unless it’s “a super (darn) emergency.”

For single parents or those in the “sandwich generation” of caring for both children and parents, balancing work and life can be tricky. Jen Fisher, a paralegal at Rothman Gordon, was divorced largely because she worked too many hours. But thanks to the Pittsburgh law firm’s culture, there’s flexibility to take an occasional day off.

She noted some people — especially those who owe debt from law school — don’t have that luxury. Many can’t afford to take a lower-paying but more flexible job.

Fisher went through it herself. Before she got to Rothman Gordon, her work-life balance was “poor.” As the family’s breadwinner, she had to return to work just one week after giving birth to her first child.

“I had to pay the bills,” she said. “I’d stay up all night rocking the baby and then went to work at 8 in the morning.”

Amanda Katawczik, vice president of finance at 4moms, doesn’t have a set strategy, as her and her husband’s schedules fluctuate. Instead, they send texts and discuss plans at the beginning of each week to coordinate day care pickup and drop off for their 2-year-old Kaeden.

When Kaeden was born, Katawczik’s balance “changed massively.” Before she became a mom, she was prone to sticking around the office to tie up loose ends.

Now she tries to get home early, before he goes to bed. Then she can jump back online to finish up work if needed. Many weekends, Katawczik will plug into email from her home and finish leftover tasks from the week. When things get too busy, she’s not afraid to look to family members nearby.

“I would not be as happy coming to work everyday if I didn’t have the right balance,” Katawczik said. “It makes me a more productive, better employee.”