Balance Work and Life as an HR Professional

Balance Work and Life as an HR Professional

Can an HR professional really have a career and family without tipping the scales? HR professionals are facing the same issues as the employees they support. But can they take advantage of the programs they administer? We asked three HR pros to explain how they keep it all in check.

Spousal Support

Meet Debra Caplan, HR director of Harcourt General Inc. and the mother of 10-year-old twins. Caplan's spouse has a position that affords him a great deal of flexibility. She says this has made a huge difference in her ability to keep things balanced.

But, like everyone else, there are times when she watches well-thought-out plans fall apart. Getting the dreaded call that her child is sick always seems to come when her spouse is traveling.

"Without family in the area, you are basically on your own," Caplan says. In this case, there is no choice but to cancel that big presentation and head to school to pick up your child.

In some organizations, choosing your child over the presentation could be a death sentence. Before coming to Harcourt, Caplan worked for a company that valued face time more than results. "Things got uncomfortable if you had obligations that took you outside the work setting," she recalls.

Setting the Tone

Gregg Barnes, HR manager at Teradyne, starts his day at 5:30 a.m. so he can get home and spend some quality time with his wife, 4-year-old and 2-year-old twins. How does he manage to keep up the pace?

"I drink a lot of Mountain Dew," Barnes replies.

Barnes pretty much sets the tone for his work group. He has hired most of the people on his team and lets them know what his situation is up front. He also assures potential staff members they can expect to maintain some sort of balance in their lives. Like Caplan, he also works in a company that supports his situation.

Teradyne allows employees to work reduced schedules and offers telecommuting as an option in some situations, Barnes explains. He also notes that few employees take advantage of the telecommuting option. In his own position, he feels compelled to maintain a normal work routine in order to develop his fairly junior team.

Given his long workdays, how does Barnes keep his life in check? He says he is fortunate enough to have a spouse who has chosen to be at home with the kids, despite her MBA from Wharton. The Barneses also have a part-time nanny and use mother's helpers, allowing his wife to shuttle the kids around. Such extra help takes a lot of pressure off him.

Adjusting Standards

Wende Malster, senior associate with Gatti and Associates, is the mother of two young children, ages 3½ and 16 months. She is a recruiter who places HR professionals and works for a firm that has allowed her to build a flexible schedule: She is in the office three days a week and works from home two days. When working at home, she often works evenings or when the kids are napping. Other members of the firm also work flexible schedules, paving the way for others, Malster says.

It also helps that, as a recruiter, Malster's job is sales-driven and commission-based. She has learned to make the best use of her time by choosing searches that will lead to the highest commissions. And she no longer feels guilty about walking away from assignments and saying no when her plate is too full.

Still, Malster says she has had to revisit her vocational expectations. She is no longer a full-time employee, so she can't expect the same level of productivity from herself if she is to remain an involved parent. "I have had to adjust my standards," she says.

How supportive does she think companies are in helping their employees deal with work-life balance issues? "Companies are making a lot of strides, but, overall, it's not where it should be," she says.

For example, while conducting searches, Malster often asks clients if they would consider hiring someone on a flexible schedule. They often respond, "I really can't." This is the HR community, the same people who work on the front lines, helping employees deal with similar work-life balance issues.

Is it really possible for an HR professional to balance a career and family without tipping the scales? Maybe, but be ready to make some compromises along the way.

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