Laundry, doctor's appointments, PTA meetings, and family vacations will take a backseat to servers and software unless you find a way to balance your IT career and home life. Use these tips to create and maintain equilibrium.
By Ruby Bayan
For the hard-core techie, ones and zeroes are family, and a double cheeseburger lunch in front of the monitor is a life. For the IT professional who somehow developed interests away from the keyboard, life can be a bit more complicated.
If you're an in-demand, indispensable, overextended, and highly stressed network administrator or IT support pro who has decided to build a relationship, raise kids, or care for loved ones, you’ll need strategies to make your career-vs.-family situation more manageable. These tips will help you find and maintain a healthy balance in your work and home life.
Work for a family-friendly company
Commitments to employer, family, and self become less of a juggling act if the workplace strongly advocates work-life balance. One such workplace is Computer Associates (CA), which was ranked by Computerworld among the "100 Best Places to Work in IT" for six consecutive years.
“Family-friendly policies and programs have been an integral part of CA's success since its founding some 26 years ago,” said CA senior vice president Lisa Mars. “We have received a number of awards and honors recognizing the quality of our working environment, and CA's low turnover rate demonstrates the success we've had to date."
CA raises the bar for work-life balance in an IT environment with standard benefits and programs that include adoption and tuition reimbursement, distance learning programs, and flexible spending accounts. Aside from the fully equipped health and fitness centers, CA maintains on-site services, including dry cleaning, automobile services, film processing, video rentals, and grocery shopping, so that employees spend less time running errands and more time with their families.
"The on-site child development centers allow parents to spend more time with their children and be only a step away in case of emergency,” Mars said. “This provides tremendous peace of mind.”
Mars said CA employees spend time with their children on the way to and from work, know they are in a safe, secure, and educational environment, and can eat lunch with them in the company's cafeteria. Newer mothers can check in on their youngsters or breastfeed as needed throughout the day, she said.
Look for ways to change your current conditions
Although large corporations such as CA maintain elaborate on-site facilities so that employees can bring their children into the workplace, your employer may not have this luxury. However, there are ways to achieve a more balanced work-life state.
Career counselor Dr. Rowan Conrad of the University of Montana said that a family-friendly career starts at the job-hunting stage. "If you want to be in IT and 'have a life,' be honest about this in the interview," he said. "State that you also have a marriage, family, etc., and it is important for you to set boundaries and stay balanced.”
He also suggests that you look within your organization for opportunities to change your hectic schedule into one that’s more manageable. "Maybe software support in the business office has a less demanding schedule than network maintenance. If something appeals to you and your skills match up, apply.”
Philip Yuson, a senior consultant with Concept Solutions Corporation, used foresight in choosing the location of his home to ensure his career was family friendly. "I came to Victoria because that was where I got a job when I migrated to Canada. But the decision to live close to work—just five minutes’ walk away from the office—was a conscious decision because I wanted to spend more time with the family."
Trigger work-life balance strategies within your organization
Companies that genuinely care about their employees would ideally encourage their staff to propose ways to address work-family balance issues and concerns. Strategies you may want to brainstorm with your decision makers can include:
- Time swapping. Jose Aniceto, project manager at OM, Sweden, explains his company's version of flexible work hours: "We have remote administration capabilities and tight security requirements. The general rule is if you are primary support, you should be within 15 minutes to the nearest access point to provide support. Informally, we sometimes swap support rosters. For example, if I need to go to a parent-teachers meeting and I'm on primary support, I swap places with someone. If I can't, I inform my secondary support and I swap places with him/her next time."
- Outsourcing. Brian Hoover, CTO of Acteva.com, shares one of his company's family-friendly solutions: "The best thing that Acteva did was to outsource application and production server management to a professional hosting company. They are responsible for making sure that the servers are operational, as well as monitoring the health of the servers. I provide level-2 support in the case of a catastrophic failure or when our clients have trouble with the system. So, although I am on call 24/7 and responsible for ensuring that Acteva's applications are always on, I can make it to my daughters' concerts and swim meets without having to worry about Acteva's site going down."
- Job sharing. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management, in its Part-Time Employment and Job Sharing Guide, states that with a job-sharing team, almost any reasonable work schedule arrangement is possible. Because two or more people are filling the job, feasible schedules include overlapping time, split shifts, and working in different locations at the same time. Aside from having complementary skills, knowledge, and abilities, job sharers will have to be good communicators, flexible, and highly committed to the project to make the job-sharing arrangement work. But with clear-cut scopes and schemes, job sharing can be an effective way to mesh work with family life, even for IT support personnel.
Know how the global community addresses work-life issues
Work-life equilibrium is not just the employee's private concern anymore. A growing global awareness—that employees who are given various means to deal with their personal commitments are more content, less stressed, and tend to be productive and loyal—is apparent in government initiatives such as the U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act.
Further evidence is the UK Department of Trade and Industry’s Work-Life Balance campaign and Ireland's Equality Authority Web site, launched to promote awareness of family-friendly/work-life balance issues.
It helps to keep tabs on family-friendly solutions implemented worldwide, to examine case studies, research, surveys, and testimonials, and to know your rights, benefits, and privileges. For further information, check out Web sites such as the Work & Family Connection, Families and Work Institute, the Collaboration on Work-Life, WorklifeBalance.com, and the U.S. Department of Labor's home page, which provide quick access to programs, strategies, and even Acts of Congress that promote work-family equilibrium.
Have you helped create a program or policy that keeps your work and family life in balance? Send us a note or post about it in the discussion below.