Magazine

Balancing Work and Life


That goal topped the list of six workplace challenges cited by our readers in a groundbreaking collaboration with BW editors

Tracee Larson knew she'd been working too hard after spending $1,300 last year on a cat sitter. Her 13 weeks on the road had left her exhausted, and personal relationships were becoming increasingly difficult to maintain. So in April, Larson, 39, quit her high-powered public-relations job and opted to work from her home in Portland, Ore., for a Dallas-based firm, taking a 40% pay cut. "Even if I earn less money and get more of my life back, it's worth it," she says.

Larson isn't alone. BusinessWeek readers cited "balancing work-life responsibilities" as their most pressing workplace problem in our Business@Work survey. To kick off a groundbreaking collaboration with our readers, we invited them to help us select six workplace challenges we'll cover in a mid-August Special Double Issue. Readers were asked to write in suggestions, and we received nearly 750 ideas for topics ranging from office politics to managing people who aren't direct reports to dealing with gender and cultural differences.

As the deluge of write-ins indicates, there's no shortage of workplace issues, but our readers zeroed in on the topics they consider most urgent: staying entrepreneurial, managing your time, negotiating a stultifying bureaucracy, coping with clueless or toxic bosses, and dealing with generational tension.

Added Pressure from the Economic Downturn

Many readers who cited balancing career and family say they had made drastic career changes in order to salvage their personal lives. Michael Jones of Gulf Shores, Ala., quit his job in April as a trainer at a major bank after half a decade of putting in 60-to-80-hour weeks and traveling 39 weeks a year. He now works part-time as a consultant with Six Sigma—and sleeps a lot better at night. Lisa Blanton of Thornville, Ohio, founded a pharmaceutical consulting firm, the Collings Group, about five years ago to set her own hours and cut down on her harrowing travel schedule.

With the economic downturn forcing companies to achieve more with fewer resources, workers are dealing with the stress of having to stay entrepreneurial and continue to take risks. Emily Dow, director of business development at a small Web development and marketing firm called Think Creative Group in New Haven, Conn., says generating new business became much more difficult about six months ago. So the company turned to previous customers who had made a one-time purchase, and offered to boost their online presence through blogs, search engine optimization, and other services. These sales now cover the group's expenses, and monthly revenue has increased 15%.

Other readers highlighted the oft-conflicting generational attitudes toward work espoused by baby boomers and Millennials (BusinessWeek, 1/9/08). New hires fresh out of school "seem to struggle a little bit more with the adjustment to what it means to put in an honest day's work," says Lou Hoffman, president of a San Jose-based public-relations firm called the Hoffman Agency. He has stopped mentioning the company's generous work-life balance policy in interviews with prospective hires in order to weed out candidates who might abuse it.

What Do You Have to Say?

We're sure there's much more to say, and we'd like to hear it. Starting today, you can submit essays, videos, and pictures on any—or all—of the topics and participate in ongoing discussions at BusinessWeek and a number of social media sites including Facebook and YouTube.

Throughout June, we hope readers will join in a dialogue and share their insights on workplace challenges and how to overcome them. At the end of the month, we'll post the best submissions online. Then in August we'll present our Special Double Issue, along with additional online features and television segments.

Fishbein is a reporter for BusinessWeek in New York.

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