Married to the job and living to work

Married to the job and living to work

Update: It's been pointed out that I should add a disclaimer that I don't intend this to apply to my own job. My boss and I have talked about the importance to me of spending time with my family and he has been very accommodating of me, allowing me to work a flexible schedule and in other ways.

Have we entered a new era of voluntary indentured servitude? I was listening to a podcast today where the topic of office romance came up. One of the panelists defended the practice by saying that people spend so much time at work now that they have no other time to meet someone. Another panelist asked if any of them knew anyone (presumably salaried employees since hourly employees are a separate case) who works 40 hours per week anymore.

The fact is that most people I know work many more hours than that, especially younger people. It used to be that there was an understanding between employers and employees that you worked a set number of hours and then you went home and that exceptions were made for special circumstances like business trips or seasonal busy periods or intense preparation for a client meeting or the like. Now it’s like that all the time.

The expectation now is often that if you aren’t working many more than your normal hours, if you’re only putting in your 40 or 45, that you aren’t a “team player,” meaning when it comes time for evaluations, promotions, and raises, you will get less than glowing reviews.

Since when did work become life? Man once worked to live, but now he lives to work.

A reporter on that aforementioned podcast admitted that she spends more time with some sources than with her husband. Is it any wonder so many marriages end in divorce? Many couples end up as virtual strangers to one another, not to mention the added dynamic of spending more time with members of the opposite sex in your office, with the attendant dangers.

Maybe it was all the years I worked from home, but I am adamant that my family comes before all else. Melanie and Isabella come before work, before service to my parish, before all of it. That doesn’t mean that I don’t work late occasionally or that I quit the parish council. It does mean that I will not put in 60 or 80 hour weeks away from home.

Actuarially, I probably have about 35 to 40 years left, maybe less. When I take into account my time spent at work (conservatively using the 40-hour week), my time spent commuting, and my time spend asleep (a conservative 6 hours per night), more than 56% of every year is spent away from my family. Isabella will turn 18 in 16-1/2 years and I will have only just over 9 years of time to soak it in.

I recognize that I have a job to do and being away from my family for some time every day is part of my duty and vocation. But I think responsible employers have a duty not to rip families apart by placing onerous demands on their employees. If you wonder why our society and culture is fracturing around us and why divorce and immorality are rampant, the first place to look is at how little time families spend together (and I don’t mean in the car racing to the next extracurricular activity.)

My dad was a workaholic when I was a kid and I generally only saw him on Sundays and then he was usually asleep in his chair because he was so exhausted. (He’s changed in many ways for the better as my three youngest half-sisters can attest.) I’m bound and determined not to do the same thing to my children.

Your job is not your life and it does not define you. It can be fulfilling and exciting and world-changing. For some of you—like those of you in military service or public service—it does demand those long hours away from family. But for most of us, lives do not depend on us being on-call around the clock.

And for those of you who work in ministry, let me tell you straight out: God doesn’t need your ridiculous hours. If He wants something done, He will find a way for it to get done without you driving yourself into the ground or neglecting your family life.

Remember, work to live. Don’t live to work. Make the world a better place by finding fulfillment in your family life, not your job.

  • Great post. I would like to add, also, that this kind of work schedule adds a lot of stress to the life of the person who’s working the 50+ hour weeks. It’s not good for anyone involved, so why do we do it?

    P.S. I had to look up actuarially. I love learning new words!

  • One of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary at the St. Francis Chapel in Boston once said:

    Work is a good thing.

    Hard work is a good thing.

    Pounding a human being into the ground is an evil with which you must not cooperate, even if the person doing the pounding is you, pounding upon yourself.

  • I agree completely with your excellent post.  When my husband had surgery recently, he made more money in overtime than he did in his regular salary. He just took out the computer and the blackberry and went to work from home.

    It is getting more difficult to work nine to five or seven to six now. The computer and the blackberry are always with you and you are always connected even if you are not present.

    I don’t think it is getting easier to work less with technology. People and work just expect more, faster and better.

  • Interesting topic…It gets to the point sometimes, and it is shared by my colleagues, that it feels that one needs to work more and more to stay ahead. I just returned from one of our overseas offices and a couple of colleagues there said that they feel the need to stay over night to keep up. (Not that they do, but so much work keeps coming in).

    Technology has made work seemingly busier. While traveling overseas, I have received emails marked urgent by colleagues who expect an immediate answer….“Hey, I’m half-way around the world, and you know it. What, am I to skip sleeping to monitor emails?”

    Email in some ways is a curse. Our company’s policy is to respond to all email within three hours. I can’t do it because I would spend nearly all day answering email. Some colleagues have a habit of marking all their emails urgent. Now, I tend to ignore those until later in the day.

    Another colleague has a habit of sending you an email, then coming to tell you that he sent you an email. “Well, if it was so important for you to tell me, then why did you send me an email?”

    Our company takes on more and more jobs and responsibilities without terminating or closing down other projects/jobs. So we have more and more on our plates, and folks get frustrated as deadlines are missed because there are too many tasks.

  • It is a fundamental principle of management that a company or organization should not commit itself to performing unlimited amounts of work with finite resources. Managers who do not grasp that should find work for which they are qualified.

  • Do you think St. Joseph worked 45 hours or less in a week?    Probably not, although in fairness Jesus was likely at his side assisting, learning carpentry, spending time with his earthly Dad as soon as he was able to swing a hammer.    Today’s kids likely will have to wait until they possess the computer, typing and phone skills to work alongside their parents.  But they likely learn plenty about Dad’s job while sitting in the car on trips to Costco listening to Dad talk to clients on his cell phone.

    My husband is a partner at one of the huge national law firms.  He regularly works 60 to 70 plus hours a week, as do many of the husbands we know.    But if you go to a Little League game or a recital or a school Mass where their children have a reading or cantoring part, the Dads are there.  Sure sometimes they’re on a laptop until their son comes up to bat, but they’re a lot more present in their kids’ lives than the Dads in my lower class/lower middle class childhood (I am 40 years old).

    I’m not going to lie and say there aren’t any stresses accompanying a 60 or 70 hour work week and a houseful of children (we have 5 so far), but I will say that for us those stresses are far outweighed by having a full time wife and mom (that’s me) who’s on top of our kids and and not having to worry about where next month’s mortgage is coming from.    Also, over the past year alone we have paid a combined total of 3 monthly mortgage payments for 2 different siblings, and given another sibling nearly $30,000 for uninsured medical expenses as well as giving at least 10 percent of our income to our parish and other prolife causes.    I say this not to brag, but to point out that a lot of good occurs precisely because men like my husband work long hours.    My husband is not only serving me and our kids, but our adult siblings as well as prolife causes. 

    The 40 hour work week is a recent invention.  But technology today allows parents the opportunity to eat dinner with their children, maybe watch and discuss a cool Survivorman episode with their 10 year old, and still get the work done.    Even when he’s not home, Dad’s always a quick email, phone call, or text message away.

    Please don’t misunderstand me.  Working lots of hours isn’t for everyone or every family.  Certainly some people have made the ultimate sacrifice fighting in union struggles for the right to work a safe 40 hour work week.  But others can work lots of hours and still have family be the most important part of their lives.  Working lots of hours is just different, not evil.

  • Amost everyone works more than 40 hours per week nowadays.  Where I live a lot of the parents (both moms and dads) have to travel a lot. That can mean weeks at a time overseas or in other states.  Many of the families I know are military or aerospace industry contractors, software engineers and stuff like that.  Some families have a mom and a dad that travel.  Once I was at a ball game and the mom next to me was a real rocket scientist for NASA.  It is extremely difficult but they somehow manage to be the team mom or the assistant coach!  I think they are amazing people and have a great deal of respect, (almost awe), for them.  I think love finds a way for them because they really do an amazing job with the time they have.  However I think kids want more than an email or a text message. There is nothing like the real thing playing a game of basketball or monopoly, helping with algebra and that science project and just the wonderful feeling of knowing everyone is home.

    It is becoming more difficult for families to have meals together between sports events, after school activities, scouts or church meetings simply because there is no time and it isn’t practical when your son is going to be pitching and your daughter has a recital and you are only one person with the only drivers license. I once met a mom at a football practice and I asked her how she managed dinner with her kids all in a different activity.  She said she just gave them corn dogs or pizza in the car.

    Life is very fast paced now.  A lot of parents have things over their ears and are talking into a microphone sending signals to those around them that they are talking to someone else during their time at home.  Younger children sometimes grow up in the car as there is so much driving to do. Work is everywhere now. It is with people 24/7. Families are having a hard time competing with that. 

    I think it is truly wonderful that you and others have been able to balance the pace of life and the workload with your family life.  Strong marriages and families are good for everyone and a joy to witness as they give hope and a great example.  I believe work is becoming more of a stress to family life and health than the asset that it used to be though.  Maybe I am wrong but my family never even owned a car or a TV and I know that at 6:00 dinner was served and everyone was home.

    I am a stay at home mom but I have to hand it to all parents today.  It is so hard out there to earn a living and to maintain a joyful and healthy family life where everyone has a little time to give themselves to one another in fun or in conversation, cooking a meal or in cleaning out the garage.

    My son graduated (officially) from College yesterday and is employed as an electrical engineer.  He had a wonderful childhood but I do wish his dad had been able to be with him more during those years. I know his dad does too.

    I don’t thinking working many hours is evil.  It just was part of the life we had and still have. Children are very adaptable. It is the parents who miss out the most.  Childhood is gone in the blink of an eye.

  • “I’m not going to lie and say there aren’t any stresses accompanying a 60 or 70 hour work week and a houseful of children (we have 5 so far), but I will say that for us those stresses are far outweighed by having a full time wife and mom (that’s me) who’s on top of our kids and and not having to worry about where next month’s mortgage is coming from.”

    The long hours are not what stresses me the most (my boss is flexible and my hours are flexible), though combined with once per month overseas travel it interupts a lot of my family time.

    Above though is a key point…I am pleased my wife is a stay at home mom to be there day-in and day-out for my kids.

    What bothers me most about the fast-paced work world is the expectation to be “always” connected/“always” on-line.

    My boss asked me for all the cell phone numbers to my direct reports. I told him truthfully I do not know. When they are away from the office on a job assignment, I know they are busy focusing on the work at hand and that they will check in. If they are out on a personal day or at a family event (school function, Little League, etc.), I’m not going to bother them. Our company can wait.

  • I am the eldest of 6 children and I am 18.  Since moving to Vegas 4 years ago my mom has had to work.  My dad is an attorney and has to work from 8-7 every day and about once a month on Saturday and Sunday.  My mom is a sales rep for a company and has to be available by phone 24/7/365.  Last year she had to go to work on Christmas.  Together they make about $120,000 a year and that barely meets the needs of a family of 8 in Vegas.  We hardly ever go on vacation and when we do it is only for a couple of days to California for a soccer tournament or something like that.  Las Vegas has really nothing to do for kids so most of our time is school, soccer for the boys and Irish dance for the girls, and sleep.  My parents both get home around 7 at night.  This is the way we have to live there is no choice in the matter.

    Anyways, I graduated from high school this past summer and I did not go to college this year simply because my parents needed me to drive.  I have to pick everyone up from school, I have to take them to activities, I have to do the shopping, I cook dinner, I help my 1st grade sister with her homework and help her learn how to read, I have to clean most of the house.  I pretty much have to do the job that most stay-at-home moms would do, but I do it not because I go married, but because I was born the eldest. 
    The woman above said that parents are a phone call away.  Yes they are, but often they cannot answer their child’s phone call.  My mom meets with clients all day so she cannot answer the phone and talk with her kids.  My dad’s boss does not want him talking to his kids on the phone either.  On the other hand no matter where we are or what time it is my mom has to answer her phone for clients or co-workers.  She has to answer during dinner, or while we are watching Kid Nation.  She has to wake up in the middle of the night and answer it if it rings. 

    You might say well she should find a better job.  She can’t!  She grew up in Kansas and her parents told her she would marry and never need an education so she only has a high school education.  This means that making $60,000 a year is a really good job.  My dad’s father told him that he would not need a college education so my dad did not go until he had five kids.  So in a way my parents are making what most newly weds should make, but they have six kids! 

    Now when my parents come home they are tired.  My dad is a very good cook so he likes good food and if I know I cannot make a meal to his standards I wait for him to come home to cook so that at least he will get a meal he will like even if it is at 8 at night.  My younger siblings all wish that my parents could pick them up so that they can convey the stories of the day. My mom tries to be available by phone, but often she is not.  My brothers don’t like their older sisters telling them what to do.  “You are not my mom!”  Well, no, we are not, but we have to assume the role of mother since society and ever increasing prices demand that my mom works. 

    I am not trying to get sympathy, but I am trying to point out to those of you who say it is OK to have long work days, that it is not OK.  This is why most of the kids I went to school with were losers.  Their parents were not home to keep them in check.  In our home the older girls had that advantage for a number of years so now we keep the younger three in check, but most kids never had that chance.  Children need constant, kind, and protective supervision.

    Women who can stay home are the lucky ones and yes, their homes are steady no matter how many hours their husbands work.  Women who have to work are the unlucky ones and it is almost impossible for them to keep a steady household. 

    I must say that since my mom is not home there are many more fights and that “Shut up!” and anger have become much more prevalent in our home life.  We are not really angry with each other, but rather with our situation.  The younger three don’t like to be told what to do by their sisters and the older three don’t like always having to pretend to be their mothers.  I don’t like fighting with my brother, but how else can I make a 12 year old boy listen to his 18 year old sister?  My little sister who is 6 does not even remember my mom being home!  She often cries “Mary” before she cries “Mama.”  That is sad, but that is what a world where living to work is becoming a necessity for both parents.

    I am 18 and I can unashamedly say “I miss my mom!  I want her to be able to come home!”  I pray for this every day and I know both of my parents pray daily for this, but it needs to be a societal movement.  We need to somehow get the wife back in the home so that the children can have a childhood and can be happy together.  Someone up above said children adapt.  Maybe they do, but it is not for the best!  Sure we survive.  Sure we are mostly satisfied, but we miss spending time with our parents.

  • Dom:

    I sympathize with what you are suggesting, though the situation I am in prevents what you are doing.

    In DC, the average townhouse runs about 350-450K.  So, if you don’t make a minimum of 6 figures (and I don’t), you are paying well over 40% of your salary for a fixed rate 30 year mortgage.

    Further to that, working for Congress, my average day starts at work at approximately 6-7 AM for business breakfasts, and ends after 11 PM.  That’s just standard.  There’s really no way around it. 

    And, this whole town is oriented towards Hill hours. 

    Now, I AM lucky.  My stay at home wife was a Congressional staffer and understands the hours.  Do I like the hours?  No.  Is there any way around them here? No.

  • Dom,
    Excellent post!  As a new father and government employee (AF civilian), I can sympathize with you.  My commanders up the chain won’t permit us civilians to work OT because it would cost more money, so I am blessed to work a 40-45 hour week and have bosses who understand family commitments.  However, the military puts in ungodly hours especially the officer corps. 

    The issue you raise brings up a forgotten part of Catholic social teaching.  If employers paid a family wage (ie, enough for a father to support his family and have enough leisure time to cultivate his faith and noble cultural pursuits), then work weeks would be shorter and mothers would not have to pursue work outside the home.  But, when the total tax burden (federal, state, and local) is about 40-50% of take home pay, then many families have to send Mom out the door.  The problem is big government (ie, the non-defense, non-homeland security part) and multinational corporations colluding to keep the family wage non-existent and taxes high.