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  My Work, My Family and Me: The Search for Balance 

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Conciliation is in fashion. We are tired of hearing how companies and governments boast about their plans and measures for employees and citizens to reconcile work and family. Facts show that those who try to achieve a balance don''t have an easy time of it and are often forced to choose between work, family and their personal life. So, is it possible to find equilibrium between these three pillars? Where should we start?

In the book "Masters of Our Own Destiny: How to Reconcile Professional, Family and Personal Life," authors Nuria Chinchilla and Maruja Moragas maintain that the first step towards obtaining a balance is "our own willingness to improve the reality in which we live and become masters of our own destiny."

Reconciling With Oneself
Changing the reality that surrounds us requires us to modify things within ourselves. The book declares that knowing ourselves helps us to better understand reality and deepen our identity, giving us a security which we can later transmit to others. Understanding oneself is fundamental to identify the mission we have in life and to prioritize the roles we undertake. This is what the authors call "reconciling with ourselves."

Conciliation with oneself comprises all elements of personality, bearing in mind that the perfect person does not exist. Three elements influence personality: genetics, rationality and emotions. These last two dimensions are dynamic, which means they tend to create imbalances. How can these imbalances be corrected? There are several ways: through understanding oneself, through compensation mechanisms and with the help of a coach.

Understanding oneself includes recognizing the conscious and unconscious motives that lead us to make our decisions. Chinchilla and Moragas group the motives into three main categories:

  • Extrinsic: those that come from the social setting (money, fame, etc.)
  • Intrinsic: those which are linked to the action itself and whose origin is internal (learning, the challenge or pleasure obtained from the action, etc.)
  • Transcendental: those whose origin is also within the person, but whose addressee is another, where the actions have positive repercussions on them
These three types of motives can simultaneously influence any decision, yet they have a different weight depending on each person and his or her particular motive structure. The authors write, "Understanding the motives that drive our decisions is essential in order to determine whether we are the masters of our own life or whether our environment has taken control. The more we manage to shift the weight of the motives towards the transcendental, the closer we are to being masters of ourselves."

Reconciling With Family
Today, long working hours are one of the reasons why individuals tend to focus on the nuclear family, relegating extended family without considering the consequences. Society needs leaders who understand themselves well and who know how to move with some degree of fluidity. For Chinchilla and Moragas, the family is an institution halfway between the individual and society. "It''s the perfect environment in which to achieve balanced progress and to develop personal and professional abilities, essential for joining the workforce and society later."

The book considers the different roles a person has within the family: husband/wife, father/mother, son/daughter, grandparents, and the roles taken on by in-laws (son/daughter in-law, brother/sister in-law, etc.). "It''s good to prioritize the roles following a hierarchy to avoid feeling overwhelmed by simultaneous demands from the whole family, and in order to build resistance against this possibility," write Chinchilla and Moragas. Following a role hierarchy leads to a family balance which avoids confusion, unease, disunity and conscience problems.

Within the family, all types of role models can be found, including masculine and feminine models which integrate all ages, characters and professions. In Chinchilla and Moraga''s opinion, this range of role models makes the family the ideal environment in which to achieve balanced progress and to develop personal, professional and social abilities.

Reconciling Work and Family
The difficulty of reconciling work and family lies in the fact that the line between the two is becoming increasingly vague. Stress at work can cause a surge in tension within the family, leading to less quality time spent at home. The problem occurs when one area takes priority and jeopardizes the other. "This order does not imply that we spend more time on the prioritized area, since very often we spend much more time in the office than at home. But this should not be an obstacle to putting the family first."

In Spain, the need to conciliate was recognized somewhat later than in other western countries, due to the late mass incorporation of women in the workforce. A job that doesn''t pay in Spain is considered to have no value, and housework goes unpaid. Because of this, the work of the housewife is undervalued, even though one of the most difficult and worthwhile jobs is homemaking, which entails creating human and social capital and bringing new consumers into the world. Housework and caring for the family are a source of constant development. Reconciling work and family implies much more than adjusting working hours: It means reconciling life itself. And it requires a plan committed to total success which comprises all aspects of life: personal, family, professional and social.

The relationship between work and family has been maintained in different ways throughout history. Chinchilla and Moragas propose a new model: freedom of choice. This alternative takes into account that each family has a profile and preferences, and goes through different times, needs and work possibilities in the various stages of its life.

Reconciling With the Company
The third pillar of our life is profession. The company is one of the places where we spend the most time, and because of this, the activities carried out there impact individuals and on society. "The specific mission of a company as an institution is to generate wealth and share it out equitably. However, we can not forget that the generic mission of any human organization is to help the people that work there grow personally and professionally, and facilitate the development of friendships between them," they write. As such, the company should aim to develop its employees through learning and intrinsic and transcendental motives. The type of links formed between the employee and the company depend on the type of motives in play between each of the parties.

Each of the workers in a company has a personal and family mission but also a professional mission, which they should be capable of integrating at work. As professionals, employees must comply with the mission to satisfy the needs of others, such as clients. Nevertheless, the authors explain how, as people, employees have a mission to form friendships with colleagues and bosses.

For Chinchilla and Moragas, failure of the company and the employee to fit together is caused by a failed recruitment process. On one hand, companies should reassess their recruitment processes by carefully considering their motives. On the other hand, individuals have the obligation to understand themselves and to find out what type of company they are dealing with before joining it.

The mass entry of women in the workforce is the historical reason for the need to reconsider what a company is and how to make it flexible in order to make space for this diversity. Many companies are initiating a real period of change towards conciliation and more flexible working hours. Some companies aim to obtain accreditation as a "Family Responsible Company." By doing so, some wish to improve their image or brand; others because legislation or a trade union requires it. And the most pro-active seek the accreditation because they have a wide, long-term vision of reconciling work and family for their employees.

Reconciling With Society
Why is the action of individuals necessary in society? The book argues that markets and legal frameworks are not enough to guarantee that citizens contribute to society. According to Chinchilla and Moragas, "In order to really progress, we have to increase human efficiency in society as well as increasing technical efficiency."

Chinchilla and Moragas argue that it''s important for individuals to adapt well to the environment in which they live, without becoming absorbed by the air they breathe. Through the various roles which they take on in society (political as electorate, economic as consumers and social as the humanising factors of society), people influence other individuals. Not everyone can contribute in the same way because not everyone has the same opportunities. "In any event, we are all responsible and should make a commitment to society so that works."
This article is based on:  Masters of Our Destiny
Publisher:  Eunsa
Year:  2008
Language:  English
Note:   This book has been published in Spanish under the title Dueños de nuestro destino (Ariel 2007) and Portuguese under the title Senhores do Nosso Destino (Aletheia Editores 2009).