Family and work balance

Family and work balance (January 10, 2006)

Ben Teehankee

Managing For Society column, The Manila Times

During the Christmas break, I “bonded” with my two boys by playing a World War II board game my wife bought me as a gift. Though I usually feel left out when the boys talk about their favorite computer network games, playing the board game was a nice social experience for us. It noticeably improved the boys’ attitude towards me especially since, to their delight, they beat me soundly the first time out.

This chance to really “be with” my boys was quite rare because I often spend too much time at work. Work can be so engrossing that it leaves little time for anything else. While managers often justify their long work hours with the need to provide for the family, many of the family’s non-economic needs get easily pushed aside. Thus, many middle-class teenagers are growing up well-provided for but with few chances for open talks with their parents about their young joys and concerns. The physical separation of overseas Filipino workers from their children during the formative years is a worrisome thing. But the psychological separation between locally based but over-working parents and their children can be just as bad.

What’s happening here? Why is the family an inspiration to work but also the first to be sacrificed when we are already successful at work? Peter Senge, in his classic book The Fifth Discipline, explained it as a case of “success to the successful”. A parent who does well at work feels good about the income and the feeling of being “in control”. The extra income also raises lifestyle spending. The feeling of work accomplishment plus the need to maintain a lifestyle further increase the desire to spend more time at work -- a vicious cycle.

For this parent, the home situation can be very different. Dealing with a difficult teenager can be a real headache and takes patience and a different set of skills. Discussing needed home improvements with a spouse can be a source of irritants because of taste differences. And there’s the ever present need to discuss the home budget, if it gets discussed at all. The parent can’t be blamed for feeling inept when facing the challenging home front and, given only 24 hours in a day, choosing to spend more time where he feels successful and satisfied. And so the family slowly starves for attention. The familiar worsening imbalance between family and work is the result.

Senge suggests a way out. The individual and the organization must have a clear and joint vision that family and work should be balanced. Members of the organization need to be empowered to look at the root causes of their balancing difficulties and to make the hard decisions to address these. For example, a father with a communication gap with his daughter should decide to spend time with her in ways that she values. How many daughters have poured their hearts out in school plays without a parent in the audience? The father must also develop the skills of parental empathy crucial to connecting with adolescents. Most importantly, the organization should support these decisions.

De La Salle provides its MBA students a course covering family and work-life balance. We hope that through this educational experience more of today’s aspiring managers can achieve the vision of balance between family and work. As for me, I’m brushing up on my strategy so I can redeem myself in my next game with the boys. Or better yet; maybe I shouldn’t mind losing again as long as I can win where it really matters – as a parent.

Dr. Ben Teehankee is Sen. Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. associate professor of corporate social responsibility and governance and Planning and Research Director of De La Salle Professional Schools, Inc. Email him at