Having firm personal boundaries is one of the ways I’m able to be a high-performing professional and a fully engaged wife and mother, while trying to keep my sanity.
So when our family schedule recently changed and I became the one responsible for getting the kids up, fed, dressed, organized, and to school every morning, I added a block to my work calendar to show me as unavailable every morning until 8am Pacific (9am in Idaho where I live and work remotely). It made so much sense that I also added a block after 5:30pm Idaho time, when my husband and kids get home, at which point I power down my laptop and go to work as “mom” for the night.
The purpose of the blocks is to discourage co-workers from scheduling meetings with me at these times but of course I make exceptions when actually necessary to my job. But at least with the blocks there, I’m clearly setting my priorities.
Yet without missing a beat, my ‘Lean In’ Director (the same Director who scolded me for using my Personal Time Off for errands) noticed the calendar blocks and confronted me about it. I explained to her it was because my children go to this place called “school” each morning and in the evenings they have to be given food if I want to keep them alive.
She went on to ask how I would accommodate early morning meetings and I reassured her that of course I will make other arrangements if a pressing meeting has to be held at off-hours. Yes, I’ll call Grandma and have her reschedule her exercise class so she can take the kids to school that day. I’ll lay out their clothes and make their lunches the night before. I’ll drag my two-, five- and eight-year-old out of bed an extra half hour early so we can get to Grandma’s, all so I can attend this oh-so-important work meeting. I’ll move mountains just because that TPS report can’t wait an extra hour, or heaven forbid we just email the edits to each other and call it a day.
Then my director’s concern shifted from my ability to accommodate early morning meetings and turned towards how many hours I was actually working – an awkward accusation since my performance and accountability have always been nothing but stellar.
I again attempted to reassure her that, when I start work in the morning, I go hard all the way until I have to wrap it up for the day. My 40 hours is equivalent to the average employee’s 60 hours. But in response she said she was “concerned” about me, that I should take a break in the middle of the day so I could recharge. I thought to myself, “lady, I have three kids, a full-time job, a household to run… ‘Recharge’ is not in my vocabulary. You expect me to sit and eat my sandwich and do nothing for 30 minutes? I haven’t ‘done nothing’ since 2009. So I’ll pass on the breakroom shmoozing and instead I’ll eat my lunch at my desk so I can get my work done and spend my evenings with the people I want to be with.”
She finally pulled out all the stops and said “If you just don’t have enough work to do, we can give you more to do. You know, most people don’t have the luxury of working just 40 hours a week.”
First, I was appalled that she thought I didn’t have enough work to do. My skill and value were being questioned just because I’m super efficient.
Second, I thought how horrible of a management style that she measures someone’s performance based on how many hours they’re sitting in front of their computer. How exhausting to have to constantly keep tabs on your direct reports by reviewing their calendars and checking their Skype status.
And third, how disgusting it is that this is the general perspective in Corporate America? It’s nowhere near good enough to get into the office at 8am, put in an honest day’s work, then leave at 5pm to go home to your family. As my Director put it, that’s a luxury that we shouldn’t expect to have.
Instead, it’s “what’s wrong with you that you don’t respond to my email at 6pm while you’re having dinner with your family?”
“What’s wrong with you that you’d rather go to your kid’s t-ball game than schmooze with VPs at the Thursday happy hour?”
“What’s wrong with you that you don’t log back on at 10pm after you just spent the last ‘luxurious’ five hours feeding, cleaning up after, playing with, homework-helping, bathing and putting to bed three wild banshees?”
“What’s wrong with you that you care more about your marriage and your children than your career?”
“What’s wrong with you that you rather have sanity and an average career, than climb the corporate ladder and be stressed out all the time?”
What has happened in our society that working a hard 40 hours every week while also raising three amazing little humans, isn’t good enough?
If women like Sheryl Sandberg really want to help the next generation of women succeed professionally, then instead of urging us to do more, more, more, they should use their power and influence to change this backwards way of thinking.
Instead of killing ourselves to meet these ridiculous standards, let’s change the standards.
Make Corporate America human again. Tell the 60-hour-a-week workaholic to go home to her family or find a hobby, instead of promoting her. Quit giving working parents like me a hard time because we’re kicking butt in an unconventional way.
If you need to see me sitting in a chair for at least 50 hours a week in order to think I’m adding value, then you won’t ever see my true value. If you want my thoughts on something at 6pm, you can send me an email and I’ll respond in the morning. Right now, I’m busy microwaving 20 chicken nuggets and my laptop is powered off for the night.