Enhance Your Family Life with Your Corporate Career
When I was raising my three boys during my career in Corporate America, some days I thought I would crack. Too many opposing demands pulled at my arms and legs until I felt like I was drawn and quartered by horses. I struggled to cram as much as possible into every moment so I could prioritize my family but stay dedicated to my work.
Thankfully, I learned to enhance my family life by utilizing the companies where I worked. I gained tips along the way that made the whole endeavor feasible.
Tip #1: Scout out and use the resources your company offers.
An advantage of working at a large corporation is the employee benefits. The problem is your company may not advertise all of what’s available. It’s your job to research, ask questions, and make yourself familiar with policies and procedures that can help your personal life. Your supervisor may not know, fully support, or even want you to know about the benefits and policies. Sometimes your boss just doesn’t want to deal with the paperwork or effort it takes to monitor your use of the benefits.
For example, my job required multi-day business travel. I discovered by reading the fine print in the benefits manual and probing Human Resources that my company would reimburse me for the extra expense of quality overnight childcare. This was particularly valuable to me when I was a single parent and, later, when my partner was out of town on business too. Another time I unearthed a policy that provided employees with free access to excellent nursing care facilities for children with colds who weren’t allowed at daycare. But no one told me about either of these perks. I had to find out for myself and education my bosses.
You should know all the ins and outs of family sick leave. You don’t want to wind up using your vacation when a family member is ill or pretending that you are the one who has the flu and go in fake-coughing the next day. The same goes for parental leave—if available—take the maximum you and your spouse can to cover those early days of infant care with less stress and more bonding time.
If your company offers work-at-home, flex time, or every other Friday off options—take them! I used those Fridays to cook a good dinner, go on a school field trip, pick the kids up early so they didn’t have to go to daycare, or just to chill my brain so I could be a better partner and parent.
Don’t be afraid to draw on your benefits, such as your full earned vacation. I watched people at work, men especially, brag about how much unused vacation time they’d built up—a macho move to demonstrate their dedication to the job. Likewise, don’t work weekends unless it’s a crisis. You might be able to say at the coffee pot on Monday, “I worked all Saturday and Sunday to push the new Fantastica Project ahead.” Meanwhile, you missed your daughter’s first home run.
Most corporations have gyms on site. I highly recommend working out at lunch which leaves the mornings and evenings open for your family time—no rushing off to the gym and missing breakfast or dinner with your loved ones. I included my workouts on my calendar and my employees complimented me on role-modeling exercise and health.
Tip #2: Blend your work into your family life
Take advantage of the “Bring Your Child to Work” Day program that many corporations organize. This fulfills two important holes that often plague working parents: 1) your kids don’t know what you do all day at your job and 2) rarely seeing your kids during a weekday. I always found it a blast to commute to work with one of my boys, have him visit my office, go to the cafeteria at noon together, and chat about the day on the way home.
I brought my family on business trips when possible. It requires another adult, so I took my mother along to watch the kids while I worked if my husband couldn’t get away. My family enjoyed the hotel room, pool, and local sights, and then I had the evenings with them. It made being away from home much more enjoyable and had the added benefit that my kids learned about business life on the road. I always paid for their way, of course, but it saves some expenses when you all stay in the same room or utilize the company rental car. If there was a company event that they could attend, I took my kids so they could experience the corporate world.
My companies helped us all have fun, too. I took my family to company picnics, to the company bowling alley, and to the old-fashioned company playground. I bought Disneyland tickets through the Employee Discount services and the kids bragged, “Mom’s company paid for Disneyland!” We got free tickets to museums—many organizations have corporate memberships that employees can utilize.
Educational opportunities abound for families of corporations. Each of my boys applied for and received a small college scholarship. One of my sons was an intern at my work—often companies will look more favorably at employee’s children for internships, since many of them like to hire the offspring of employees for full-time positions. One company I worked for provided driver training for 16-year-old children of employees and all my boys attended when the time came for them to get their licenses.
Corporations often give time off for volunteering in the community. I used that benefit to speak at my children’s schools, help in the classroom, work in the Career Center at their high school, or do a community activity like a creek clean-up where my kids could also participate after school.
Some of the best company fringe benefits, I must admit, are those that give you a little time for yourself. My rationale is that a happy mother and wife is a good mother and wife, so I always checked out yoga, mindfulness classes, book clubs, and masseuses available at work. I practiced with the on-site physical therapist and obtained correct ergonomic equipment such as a comfortable chair, sit-stand desk, and larger computer screen. I’d find myself much more productive and relaxed when I greeted my partner and kids in the evening if I’d spent a small amount of time taking care of myself that day.
Tip #3: Consider working at the same corporation as your spouse/partner.
Did you know that many companies favor the “company couple”? It’s true, though my first experience with it didn’t bode well. My husband and I were both laid off on the same day–a terrifying experience when you have bills to pay and a family to support. We vowed never to be a company couple again, but as the years went by, I saw the pluses outweighed the risk and I wish we’d tried it again. I sat in development committees where it was said, “Well, if we are going to move Marsha, we need to find a job for her husband Eric in the same location.” This is extremely convenient when trying to balance career changes and relocations. You also understand each other’s jobs better, often attend the same functions, get equal paid vacation, and can both enjoy and capitalize on the company’s many benefits.
You can manage your company to boost your family life. I hope these three tips will help get you across the finish line—proud of your career, your lasting marriage, and happy children sent off as contributing members of society.
This guest post was authored by Lucinda Jackson
Lucinda Jackson spent almost fifty years at three universities and four Fortune 500 companies where she experienced and witnessed the unequal treatment of women. This spurred her to write about how to change that dynamic and how to help women find their power in the workplace and in life in Just A Girl. After growing up in California, Oregon, and Washington, she received her PhD in science in Illinois and continued speaking and serving on boards of academic, nonprofit, and industry organizations worldwide. She loves her fantastic women friends, reading, exercise, and helping others. After Peace Corps volunteerism in Palau and teaching science in Mexico, Jackson and her husband returned recently to their home near San Francisco. They are immensely proud of their three liberated sons who are scattered around the globe.