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Family Matters

Keep your relationships outside of the office thriving with these work-life balance tips

By Tara Laskowski


Ryan Jones

Paul Clifford and his daughter were attending a Pennsylvania State University hockey game as fans. But the CEO of the alumni association naturally ran into friends and colleagues. As he stopped to chat, his daughter laughed. "Even when you're not working, you're working, Dad," she said.

For busy advancement officers, the line between their professional and personal lives blurs easily and often. Alumni relations staff frequently work evenings and weekends; development officers can travel several times a month to visit donors; social media directors monitor, respond, and post content 24/7. In a recent work-life balance survey, 68 percent of advancement professionals reported working 45 hours or more per week, and 30 percent said that work often interferes with their personal lives. These unpredictable schedules can take a toll on families.

"Because we live in a society that rewards people who work harder, we can use our job as an excuse to not be at family events or hang out with friends, and it's generally accepted," says Summer Reiner, an associate professor in the Department of Counselor Education at the College at Brockport, State University of New York, who was one of the researchers on the study. The perception is if you work hard, you will make more money, earn a promotion, and receive awards. "Eventually it can become uncontrollable and can create resentment in personal and professional relationships," she says.

So how can you align your personal and professional relationships in a healthy way? Here's how to stay married to your partner and not wedded to your job.

Don't just re-evaluate your priorities—make sure you have them

Kris McPeak didn't realize how consuming work was until she started long-distance running and needed weekends to train. "I began to meet people outside of higher education with other jobs and other interests and realized we could talk about things besides our jobs," says the director of operations for the Pasadena City College Foundation in California. She and her husband, Charles, who also loves endurance sports, began doing more things as a couple and developing friendships together.

Now she coaches young professionals at her workplace and at CASE conferences on the importance of aligning work and life. McPeak wants people to discover interests beyond their job and to stop harmful behaviors, such as working long hours, not dealing with on-the-job stress, and eating unhealthy foods, all of which can lead to sickness and depression. In 1998, France passed a law reducing the number of working hours from 39 to 35 per week. A 2012 study showed that those working the longer hours had a greater chance of smoking, drinking alcohol, and not exercising. "I remember being an unmarried person and having that ‘I am my job' mentality, and when you do that for a long time, you burn out," McPeak says.

Love caused Diane Shoger, executive director of the Monroe Community College Foundation in New York, to re-evaluate her work schedule. "I am a recovering workaholic," she admits, having spent 13 years at the Special Olympics, where she says work and play melded. "There was a lot of travel and glamorous events. I was single and living alone, so I just worked all the time."

She changed her life after marrying her husband, Tim. "I wanted to commit to this marriage," she says. "I had to make some rules and stick with them."

Shoger joined the MCC Foundation in Rochester, New York, where her husband lived. A majority of the community college's alumni live within a small radius, allowing Shoger to drastically reduce her travel. She also made definite distinctions between work time and personal time.

"If I need to do one more thing at work, I stay at work and do it," she says. But she limits it to one thing. Otherwise, that single task can lead to five or six others, and work eats her whole evening. Leaving work at the office creates a boundary between the end of her day and the start of her personal time. "It works," she says. "My husband appreciates that when I'm home, I'm present in our relationship."

Know when to say no

Advancement professionals are people-pleasers. Relationships are at the core of the job, and saying no is difficult. But leaving at the end of the workday, even if office mates are still at their desks, can make you a better employee.

"Know what your personal craziness index is," Beth Kanter, co-author of the book The Happy Healthy Nonprofit: Strategies for Impact without Burnout, said during a recent webinar. Kanter, who borrows the term from her colleague Aisha Moore, believes that recognizing moments of extreme stress is key to work-life balance. "Is it when you forget your phone; work on random, irrelevant tasks; have a messy desk; scream at your kids? When you have external signs that things are crazy, that's your cue to push the pause button and reboot."

To help reduce stress, view time as a bank account: Sometimes you're withdrawing and sometimes you're depositing, says Suzanne Connors, director of alumni engagement and annual giving at Colorado's Fort Lewis College. If she has to work one weekend, she tries to take a long weekend with her family. "It's not a perfect system, sure, but I like to think that what matters is I'm getting my job done and also carving out time for my husband and children."

Connors also cautions advancement professionals to be mindful of their partner's limits. "My husband is an introvert, and I respect that. I only ask him to come to events with me when it's important that we show up as a couple," such as galas or major events, she says. "He's willing to do that, and I'm careful to not take advantage."

Keep a detailed calendar, and don't fear when it changes

If university researchers could invent the Harry Potter time-turner that allows people to be in two places at once, fundraisers would be eager to support it. Juggling schedules is a constant battle for families in advancement, especially those couples raising children.

Dave Shepherd, director of college advancement at United World College of South East Asia in Singapore, travels 12 times a year, including to the United States, Europe, and India. This requires him and his wife to maintain detailed calendars and schedules to manage their life and their two teenagers.

Bob and Lisa Otterson also juggle family and professional time. They both work in advancement, Bob as the vice president for institutional advancement at Dakota State University, and Lisa as the director of development for university programs at South Dakota State University Foundation.

With three teenagers in the house, the Ottersons have a regular morning strategy session over coffee to figure out the day's logistics. "No days are ever alike," Lisa Otterson says.

Technology can help keep schedules manageable, says Kiley Mallard, a writer and editor at the University of Tampa. She often covers evening and weekend events and says that Cozi, a free app that helps families organize activities, has "saved our lives." With two young children, Mallard and her husband use the app to share calendars, grocery lists, and other errands.

Even with apps and detailed calendars, couples need contingencies for emergencies: sick children, last-minute meetings, and household repairs. "I try to remind my husband about events I have coming up, but sometimes I forget," McPeak says. "Luckily, he understands, most of the time."

Small rituals that mark the transition from work to family time can help couples find private space to relax. For Shoger and her husband, that's often a drink by the fire or watching sports on TV. The Ottersons take evening walks. "We use that time," Bob Otterson says, "to decompress from the day, discuss parenting challenges, or just be together."

Step away from that phone!

Is your smartphone more tempting than a box of Godiva chocolates? You're not alone.

"It's impossible [to put down]," Clifford says. "Part of it is my personality—I'm an adopter of technology, so even if I wasn't working, I don't know that I could store it away. It's also hard knowing that the inbox is accumulating."
Each year, Connors' family takes a trip down the San Juan River, and it's the one time she can truly unplug. "No cell service-it's the greatest gift," she says. "But do I have the self-discipline to do that on a daily basis? Absolutely not. It's easier for me to stay on top of things and deal with them as they come along."

Americans spend more than 10 hours a day using smartphones, tablets, radio, television, computers, and video games, according to a 2016 Nielsen Company study. Worse, 90 percent use some type of media in the hour before bedtime—and the National Sleep Foundation reports that it's affecting our sleep and health.

So how do we make sure our technology isn't hurting us? Small steps, says Aliza Sherman, Kanter's co-author of The Happy Healthy Nonprofit. "I set up a charging station for all our family's electronics in an out-of-the-way place," she told webinar participants. When Sherman's family comes home, they plug their devices in and keep them there. If they feel the need to check their phone, they have to walk all the way through the house to get to it. "It makes us more mindful," she said.

Shoger locks her cell phone in the hotel safe on long vacations, pulling it out only once to call in to the office halfway through the trip. "I have not necessarily mastered [completely unplugging], but I try," she says. "At the end of the day, it's about perspective. We raise money. We're not in an emergency room; we don't do heart transplants. Sometimes you have to just trust your colleagues and give yourself a break."

If you can't beat it, blend it

Instead of choosing between personal and professional time, appreciate where the two intersect.

"Family can be involved in the work we do," says Clifford, who brought his wife and three children with him to Penn State's fall 2016 homecoming weekend. They rode in the homecoming parade, watched as he judged a competition, and sat with him at the football game. Living in a small college town helps with the Ottersons' work-life balance as well. "We work in places where our kids can stop in and visit," Bob Otterson says.

The Tampa campus where Mallard works offers plenty of athletic, cultural, and educational events she can share with her family. The academic year also keeps her in sync with her children's schedules—their breaks coincide with hers—which simplifies their schedules.

When you love your job, sharing your passion with your family is easier. Advancement is "not a job or career-it's a chosen lifestyle," Clifford says. "My family chooses to be active in higher education, and we understand that it's a bit of a public profile. But that's not a negative—I love the work that I do."

The Ottersons joke that they work in higher education because they never wanted to leave college. They hope their passion for their jobs rubs off on their kids. But when the line between work and home life blurs, the Ottersons take a step back to remember their priorities: their marriage, their kids, and their work. "We might not do date nights, but our lives intersect in intentional and deliberate ways," Lisa Otterson says. "Can we improve on carving out personal time? Sure, everyone probably can."

Connors of Fort Lewis College agrees and adds, "Working on a campus gives you great access to babysitters. We just need to call them more often."

About the Author Tara Laskowski

Tara Laskowski is a senior editor for Currents magazine.




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