Friday, November 30, 2012

The Triple-Win of Work and Life Balance


By Catherine L'Ecuyer

The Work and Life Balance debate reminds me of the Galileo case. The parallel does not come from the controversy that the issue has raised, but rather from the very approach to the issue. Does the sun revolve around the Earth, or is it the other way around? Do life and work balance issues have to be approached exclusively from the perspective of the woman and the company’s needs and rights, or is there a key third-party point of view that should be taken into consideration, to the extreme of perhaps converting itself into the center of the debate?

Not only does science confirm Galileo, but it also tells us about the forgotten third party to the work and life balance debate. The attachment theory, first developed by John Bowlby, is now one of the most widely recognized and established theoretical approaches in the field of psychological development. Throughout the years, this theory has converted itself into the dominant approach to understanding early social development, has been confirmed by a quantity of empirical research in psychology, neurobiology, pedagogy, psychiatry, etc., and is now being used to ground most of the social and childcare policies. The attachment theory tells us that children need a stable and available caregiver during their first 18 months of life in order to be self-confident, capable of obeying, respectful of authority, well disposed to learning and psychologically well balanced.

Most work and life balance arguments contemplate the company and the women’s rights, but forget the most important party to the debate: the child. I do not know of any woman in a management position who has decided to stay at home in order to clean her house and to go to the supermarket. These tasks can easily be delegated. Accompanying a child in discovering the world for the first time and shaping his paradigm towards life is not delegable.

When I go to the park with my children and I look around, I can see hyperactive children looking into the emptiness, accompanied by their nannies or, in some lucky cases, by their grandmothers. What will be of that generation of young children, who are being cared for by strangers, by the mass media or who are competing for the attention of their caregiver, in a class with 25 other children?

And the next logical question would be: what will be of these future employees, managers, executives, who have grown up under these conditions? Milan Kundera said “The reason children are the future is not that they will one day be grownups. No, the reason is that mankind is moving more and more in the direction of infancy, and childhood is the image of the future.” I fear companies have spent no time in addressing this issue. They are too busy resolving the short-term goals of reporting to the stockholders at the end of the current trimester. It is incongruent that environmental issues and non-profits be on the agenda of the multinationals as stockholders, while children aren’t.

Many of the women who decide to "take a career break" to take care of a child, later on have to face an odd situation. Interviewers do not understand how their non-traditional curriculum can add value to their company. Companies might even go as far as apologizing for not being able to do them the "favor" of compensating their benevolent decision. This "career break" often kills their opportunities to go back to the labor market. In times where companies are struggling, in need of managers and employees capable of out-of-the-box thinking, the narrow-minded attitude of the absolute search for industry knowledge and uninterrupted full-time business experience makes me wonder. Isn’t the current work and life balance debate as wrong and outdated as the thought that the sun revolves around the Earth? There is a need for a new work and like balance debate that adjusts itself to the reality: the triple-win of work and life balance. However, this triple-win will only be effective when taking a professional break to take care of a child is no longer to be considered “vehemently suspect of heresy” by the feminists, the same way Galileo’s heliocentrism was.

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