Birnbach Communications




Manager's Journal: Benchmarking the Joneses
Americans must love their jobs, because more of us work longer hours than ever. We're not couch potatoes; we're desk potatoes. According to "The Time Bind: When Work Becomes Home and Home Becomes Work" by sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild, those hours can have an unsettling impact on our personal lives, straining marriages and alienating our children (though perhaps the latter is unavoidable).

Unfortunately, the people who most need to break this pattern and bring better balance to their lives won't have time to read Ms. Hochschild's book. So, based (loosely) on her ideas, I've provided an executive summary to help sufferers recognize the condition of PLDD – Personal Life Deficit Disorder.

  • You insist on bringing an agenda and overheads to family meetings.
  • You answer your home phone with your name and instinctively dial 9 to get an outside line even when calling from home.
  • For Valentine's Day, you send your spouse an e-mail memo; for your anniversary, a positive annual review with a card saying: "Still synergistic after all these years."
  • You schedule every minute of your vacation (as a compromise, you include a few "breaks" this year) and keep all receipts in case you can get reimbursed. Your spouse becomes suspicious of your offers to take care of unpleasant errands that happen to be located near telephones.
  • You go "cold turkey" one weekend by not checking voice-mail or e-mail, but start suffering "withdrawal" symptoms.
  • You have as many pairs of shoes tucked away – just in case – in a file drawer as you do in your closet at home.
  • You and your spouse craft a mission statement before starting a family.
  • You refer to your in-laws as "target audiences-in-law" or keeping up with your neighbors as "benchmarking the Joneses."
  • You like to spend time with your family over dinner while watching the 10 o'clock news. (Flextime is when you get home in time for "Seinfeld.")
  • Instead of placing a dollar underneath your child's pillow as a gift from the Tooth Fairy, you ask him to submit a reimbursement form, with receipts.

Bringing balance to your life is certainly worthwhile. Best of all, it requires some work. One way to achieve this goal is to outsource some processes, such as meal preparation or day care. (Downsizing is one trend best left to real businesses, my older brother's arguments to my parents notwithstanding.)

But most important of all is to reinvent your corporate – uh, family – culture. Here are some suggestions.

  • Don't refer to vacations as "retreats," "team building," "shareholders' meetings" or a "good opportunity for face time."
  • When talking about your children, don't say, "We're pleased with Emily, the budding ballerina; the ROI on her is great. Tommy's not having a strong semester; his projected grades may be lower than the same period last year."
  • Don't tie increases in allowance to inflation. However, you can offer incentives for increases in errand productivity, such as staying up later, watching TV on a school night or, for exceptional performance, desert before dinner.
  • Don't refer to living together as "due diligence," a planned marriage as an "impending merger" or a "strategic alliance," signing the marriage license as "finalizing the paperwork," separation as a "possible spin-off" or a divorce as a "deacquisition, to be followed by a repositioning in the marketplace."
  • Don't refer to your spouse as "co-CEO," a husband as "chief technology officer," a pregnant wife as "EVP for new products," a nanny as "director of development" or your children as "line extensions" or "little dividends."

Will these steps remedy the problems Ms. Hochschild identifies? I'm not really sure. What with deadline pressures, demands from clients (not to mention my wife and my parents) and other stuff, I didn't have time to do more than skim the book.


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