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
- 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
- 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
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.