Work-life balance and the working stiff at the bottom

For more than a week now the national media here in the US and the digital media world have been on fire talking about Yahoo’s increasingly unpopular CEO Marissa Mayer and her decision to end telecommuting at the struggling company. I wrote a piece last week for The Portland Phoenix with some of my thoughts on the situation and figured I was done with the matter. However it’s clear this issue won’t die which is actually pretty funny since with all the talk about work-life balance being bandied around, there is a growing segment of the population that is so invisible that they rarely merit any significant discussion. The millions of men and women in this country who since the Great Recession aren’t in the middle class and if they are working, the jobs they work at barely pay a living wage, much less allow for privileges such as telecommuting. After all how exactly can that 35 year old mother of two who serves up overpriced beverages to the privileged folks who have the luxury of working from either home or the local Starbucks do her job from home and still get paid.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine drinking a virtual latte, nor can I imagine having a virtual clerk at the local department store assist me from the comfort of her home. When we discuss issues that we hold dear, too often we are looking at them through a privileged lens where choices exist, where we can choose work to fit our lives and not the other way around. Work-life balance is important and technology is a beautiful thing but it pains me to see that for front line workers whose jobs cannot be done from home, who is speaking for them?

In the coming days and weeks with the sequestration cuts poised to take effect, for millions living is about to get a heck of a lot harder and balance… what is that? Can we be honest? Work-life balance is yet another perk that one gets for either being born on at least second base or somehow getting to second base and frankly I think that needs to be acknowledged. Growing up working class, I am intimately aware that there are more than a handful of jobs that won’t ever be done from the comfort of one’s home. After all when you need a plumber or an electrician, chances are you want them to actually show up at your house and resolve the problem.

For many working class folks, work-life balance might be more about making sure their jobs pay wages they can actually live off of. That means wages that pay the bills, allows one to save a little and maybe even get a vacation once a year. See, it’s hard to feel balanced when you never have enough money to make your ends meets yet that is the reality for millions. If we want to have a real discussion about work life balance, then we need to make sure that discussion involves people from across the class spectrum so that it is a true dialogue and not merely an echo chamber of like-minded people who see the world through the same lens.

9 thoughts on “Work-life balance and the working stiff at the bottom”

  1. It goes back to the nonsensical “having it all” crap. I’ll never have it all if other people get to define what all is. My all will always differ from your all. My needs and wants will differ from yours as well as, perhaps, my job and its duties. I have no flexibility right now as a government contractor, but it’s OK. It’s only OK (for me) because my kids are all in school full time, even the 3 yr old. When I needed to be home, I was grateful for the ability. Sure, I wish I still had the option (because I’m lazy and would prefer to work in my pajamas) but I don’t NEED it right now. What I need, balance wise right now, is a better job, not just one that offers hour/place flexibility. I am glad to have this job (even though I hate it but that’s not the point) but you’re right; there are always jobs that simply don’t have the option to be done from home. But that doesn’t mean that the shoe salesman doesn’t have work/life balance. It differs for each of us.

  2. Once, when planning a meeting at work a team member and mom said she could not meet after hours. With good intentions I said “let’s meet earlier. Some people have child care issues.” (a phrase I’m sure I had heard many times)

    My team member laughed and said “I don’t have issues; I have KIDS.”

    I immediately understood and appreciated her and learned a lesson in leadership that day. That was 10 yrs ago and I’ll never forget it and never use that phrase arbitrarily.

  3. Yes, what Nicole wrote.
    And, when I first had my minis I would just cry thinking about parents who had to leave their babies and go back to work ASAP.
    I took a demotion at work to get some flexibility. It was a bitter sweet pill, but I know I am fortunate to have a choice. It makes all the difference in the world.
    We all need to do whatever we can to support one another as parents.

    • Exactly. I think though that to go beyond the words if we really want to support mothers/parents, we need to know not everyone has the same needs. I was talking on a twitter to a mom in Canada and the supports they have in that country really could provide a blueprint of the changes we could make in this country.

  4. I love this entire post. My job will never be outsourced or work from home. It’s just not possible. Articles about work-life balance are meaningless to me because there are no other options for balancing. Thank you for writing this and addressing this often overlooked issue.

    • My work is similar, while I can work from home part of the time, my staff can’t because they work directly with clients. So it’s am issue I think about a great deal.

  5. There is an expression: “We see from where we stand.” Most (not all) folks are guilty of this; of seeing through a single lens…in all honesty, I’m guilty as well. But life has a funny/strange way of giving us a poke in the eye with a sharp stick….

    • Kate. I agree wholeheartedly. I most certainly am guilty of this but I do strive to see the other person’s perspective but I often fall short.

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