The Triple-Win of Work & Life Balance

By Catherine L’Ecuyer

The Work and Life Balance debate reminds me of the Galileo case. The parallel does not come from the controversy that the issue has raised, but rather from the very approach to the issue. Does the sun revolve around the Earth, or is it the other way around? Do life and work balance issues have to be approached exclusively from the perspective of the woman and the company’s needs and rights, or is there a key third-party point of view that should be taken into consideration, to the extreme of perhaps converting itself into the center of the debate?

Not only does science confirm Galileo, but it also tells us about the forgotten third party to the work and life balance debate. The attachment theory, first developed by John Bowlby, is now one of the most widely recognized and established theoretical approaches in the field of psychological development. Throughout the years, this theory has converted itself into the dominant approach to understanding early social development, has been confirmed by a quantity of empirical research in psychology, neurobiology, pedagogy, psychiatry, etc., and is now being used to ground most of the social and childcare policies. The attachment theory tells us that children need a stable and available caregiver during their first 18 months of life in order to be self-confident, capable of obeying, respectful of authority, well disposed to learning and psychologically well balanced.

Most work and life balance arguments contemplate the company and the women’s rights, but forget the most important party to the debate: the child. I do not know of any woman in a management position who has decided to stay at home in order to clean her house and to go to the supermarket. These tasks can easily be delegated. Accompanying a child in discovering the world for the first time and shaping his paradigm towards life is not delegable.

When I go to the park with my children and I look around, I can see hyperactive children looking into the emptiness, accompanied by their nannies or, in some lucky cases, by their grandmothers. What will be of that generation of young children, who are being cared for by strangers, by the mass media or who are competing for the attention of their caregiver, in a class with 25 other children?

And the next logical question would be: what will be of these future employees, managers, executives, who have grown up under these conditions? Milan Kundera said “The reason children are the future is not that they will one day be grownups. No, the reason is that mankind is moving more and more in the direction of infancy, and childhood is the image of the future.” I fear companies have spent no time in addressing this issue. They are too busy resolving the short-term goals of reporting to the stockholders at the end of the current trimester. It is incongruent that environmental issues and non-profits be on the agenda of the multinationals as stockholders, while children aren’t.

Many of the women who decide to “take a career break” to take care of a child, later on have to face an odd situation. Interviewers do not understand how their non-traditional curriculum can add value to their company. Companies might even go as far as apologizing for not being able to do them the “favor” of compensating their benevolent decision. This “career break” often kills their opportunities to go back to the labor market. In times where companies are struggling, in need of managers and employees capable of out-of-the-box thinking, the narrow-minded attitude of the absolute search for industry knowledge and uninterrupted full-time business experience makes me wonder. Isn’t the current work and life balance debate as wrong and outdated as the thought that the sun revolves around the Earth? There is a need for a new work and like balance debate that adjusts itself to the reality: the triple-win of work and life balance. However, this triple-win will only be effective when taking a professional break to take care of a child is no longer to be considered “vehemently suspect of heresy” by the feminists, the same way Galileo’s heliocentrism was.

6 comentarios sobre “The Triple-Win of Work & Life Balance

  1. Has vuelto a dar en el clavo en un tema en el que en este país hay una hipersensibilidad y un planteamiento en falso. No sé si el redactarlo en inglés: idea que yo apoyo, le ha restado fuerza. el problema es en mi opinion que no existe una idea de que la familia es el fin y la economía (administración de la casa) y la carrera el medio. Por eso acudimos a sucedáneos como el tiempo de calidad o a las actividades extraescolares, como explica el chiste, para poder vivir con hijos pero cómo si no los tuviéramos. Este es el modelo de éxito personal y profesional que se difunde incluso en escuelas como IESE que en la teoría dan otros discursos. Gabriel Ginebra

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  2. Querido Anónimo Ginebra, como siempre, dices lo que piensas y me gusta. Hay demasiado demagogos en nuestra sociedad que hablan de los temas (la conciliación es uno de ellos) con eufemismos y superficialidad, para asegurar que nadie de su público se de baja, y siga alabándolos con la condición de que no digan nada incómodo. Don't rock the boat! Me sumo a lo que comentas (el capital para la persona y no la persona para el capital) y resumiría el tema de la conciliación a una frase (luego habrá que ser honesto y reconocer que hay numerosos matices): Se puede vivir con menos. Y me atrevo a añadir… también siendo muy feliz.

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  3. Dear Catherine,
    I must say work and life balance issueas are very close to my heart. And anyone who knows me well would say so. I have three small children and I am proud to say that I took time off work to take care of them. It was hard to join the labor market afterwards…but not impossible. Two of them were born in England,where the labor market is much more flexible and there are more options for women returning to work after a career brake (part-time jobs, job-sharing, etc.). My third child is 18 months old and was born in Barcelona. I took an “excedencia” to take care of him, so left my management position in a multinational institution legally on hold for 1 year…On my return to work I was fired…Work and life balanced experts advocate and encourage us to be brave and to use the law for the benefit of our children. In my opinion, there is still a long way to go in Spain…it is a big problem, not only socio-economic but also a cultural problem, where the needs of children and mothers are put at the bottom of priorities.

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  4. Querida Catherine,
    Soy madre de un bebe de 24 meses y de otro -que ayer recien- cumplió 1 mes. Además soy abogado laboralista, por lo que durante años he vivido a nivel profesional todo tipo de situaciones y conflictos derivados de la maternidad. Las herramientas que da la legislación española son pobres. Normalmente son las madres las que proponen las soluciones más imaginativas, siempre pensando en sus hijos, anteponiendo la satisfacción de la maternidad a su carrera profesional. El legislador español no ha tenido nunca como objetivo de protección a los niños. Se ha perdido una oportunidad en la última reforma laboral de dar encaje a la flexibilidad que este país necesita ante la maternidad, siendo la actual situación de crisis -a mi entender- un entorno ideal para ello, pues es una inversión de futuro. Felicidades por el artículo, sin duda voy a leer tu libro.

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