A Question of Balance. International Conference on Work and Family

05/07/2011

Technology has made it possible for many of us to work anywhere and at any time. The days of being "out of the office" or "away from the phone" are over, and as a result the lines between work and the rest of life are becoming increasingly blurred. Technology can save us from long commutes and relieve us of some of the stress of combining work and family but the degree to which the options that technology brings are a blessing or a burden was the focus of discussion at the 4th International Conference on Work and Family, which has been held over the past two days on IESE's Barcelona campus under the heading "Innovations in Work-Family Research and Practice."

Prof. Nuria Chinchilla opened proceedings with a talk entitled "A new paradigm to work and family integration: a motivational approach." She said that work and life are seen as antagonistic and she positioned the individual in the middle of a triangle of company, family and society with - to different degrees - extrinsic, intrinsic and transcendental motivations. "We need an anthropological economy," she said. "Companies need to motivate employees with more than money and other extrinsic incentives."

Prof. Ellen Kossek of the University of Michigan led the afternoon session on "Work-Family Flexibility and the Changing Employment Relationship." Kossek divides people into "integrators," who mix work and the rest of their life; "separators," who avoid the one crossing over into the other, and "volleyers," who fall between the two.

We suffer constant interruptions as work and life spill over into each other and it is up to us to set boundaries, she said. A lot of people end up feeling that they are not properly engaged either in their work or the rest of their life and their days become one big blur of activities. She said that people should ask themselves: Do I work during personal time? Do I deal with personal issues while at work?

The second morning began with a talk by Prof. Tim Hall of Boston University and Prof. Brad Harrington of Boston College based on the book "Career Management and Work-Life Integration." Harrington proposed a "protean career" in which the individual is in charge of their career, not the organization. In order to develop career management skills, the meta-competencies are self-awareness and adaptability, he said. You have to understand yourself in order to achieve the balance that suits you best. "You have to ask yourself, who am I and what am I good at?" he said.

Kossek added that "the degree to which we feel in control determines how happy we are."

International Center for Work and Family website