Since my partner and I are about to go on vacation and I’m therefore about to go on a break from work, this will be my last blog until mid-January. I figured that this might be a good occasion to talk a bit about what some people call the “work-life balance.” I’ll try to make my comments general, but note that my perspective is that of a man, a scientist, and an academic in the US, which may be very different than others’ perspectives. One major difference of jobs in academia is that they tend have more flexible schedules but less security than other jobs. (For more discussion of these issues, I suggest looking at the Women in Astronomy blog and the American Astronomical Society Committee on the Status of Women.)
I think the main point I want to make here is that work-life balance issues and issues of equality and diversity are closely related, and issues of fair working conditions and job security are related as well but are discussed less often in this context.
One thing is clear: both women and men want to “have it all”, though what “all” refers to is different for different people. In addition, there has been much debate and discussion recently in news media, such as these articles in The Guardian and The Atlantic, of the fact that men also want a balance between work and life, which often refers to men taking a larger role than before at home with their families. It’s interesting that this is considered noteworthy, but it’s good that changes toward equality are happening even if they’re a bit late.
When both men and women seek balances between work and life, this also should result in more equal career and employment opportunities for women and therefore more women in leadership positions than there have been in the past. For example, when both men and women take parental leave, it is less likely to hurt them in terms of their long-term career advancement. It is increasingly becoming understood and expected by co-workers and employers that both men and women take leave, though some employers (and universities) have better policies for this than others. Many countries require paid paternity leave, but the US is not one of them.
I also want to point out that discussions of these issues often seem to occur about people with children, though of course people without kids want work-life balance too. Work and careers are important for many people, but some people only notice a work-life tension when they have kids, partly because kids take a lot of time but also because some people’s lives are primarily focused on their work. This isn’t really a criticism (after all, many great scientists and artists have been passionately focused only on their work), but it’s worth noting that “workaholic” attitudes are common but are especially prevalent in the US, to some people’s detriment. In addition, when there is a lot of competition for jobs and job security is hard to find, there is more pressure to work harder and longer hours at the expense of other important things. In any case, every person has different goals and priorities, but jobs and employer policies should be flexible enough to accommodate that. A work-life balance is important for one’s mental and physical health and happiness and for the health of families and communities, though of course different people will have different ways for attempting to achieve such a balance.
Finally, to lighten things up, let’s end with an Onion article.