Balancing Act: Companies Help Employees Juggle Work, Life

By Pat Shaver The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill.

BLOOMINGTON

Allison Kushner has two jobs, and both involve day-to-day chaos, a rigorous schedule and a keen sense of focus.

Her work day starts early in the morning, as a full-time mother to her 20-month-old daughter, Aria.

When her daughter relaxes later in the morning, she becomes a full-time attorney. Then she switches back to a mom, then back to an attorney.

It's all in a day's work, she said.

"The days are long, the nights are long. Sometimes I don't get to do work before she's in bed. But it is worth it to me," Kushner said, who has operated her own law firm, Bloomington Law Mom, out of her home for about a year.

Kushner and other women in today's workforce deal with challenges, but also reap the benefits of managing a household while maintaining a career.

About 58 percent of women in the U.S. are in the workforce, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. More than half of mothers with young children work in the U.S. today, compared to about one-third in the 1970s, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Today, more companies doing what they can to offer resources focused on work-life balance, said Barbara Ribbens, an Illinois State University associate professor of management.

"The good news is I think it has become easier for moms to work in and out of the workplace," Ribbens said.

More companies are offering parents the option to work from home, offering informational programs for new mothers and allowing busy mothers to have flexible work schedules, Ribbens said. "Businesses see the healthiness of having employees who have a healthy family life. That trickles over into the workplace. If you are having family issues, it certainly has detrimental effects."

Erin Link, ISU coordinator of communication and marketing for health promotion and wellness, said the university offers several programs for employees to help with work-life balance.

"Research shows that employee and family programs increases productivity, improves moral and employees are more loyal to the workplace," Link said. "It helps alleviate stress, which is one of the top reported health issues. Anything we can do to mitigate that stress is helpful."

Work-life balance and wellness programs are nothing new, Link said, but it has become more important for businesses to attract and retain employees.

"I don't think the need is new, but I think people are just becoming more aware of what the needs are. There's also more openness to talk about certain things, too," Link said. "People are also more open about the struggles in their family."

At ISU, employees are offered a variety of programs focused on family life.

For mothers, it recently started a support group where women can meet at in informal setting once a month and discuss different common issues they are having at work and at home, Link said.

"It all goes back to minimizing stress. We see wellness as very holistic and it involves many things, not just fruits, vegetables and physical activity. It involves overall work-life balance. If we can provide people an outlet for their family to have fun, or a workshop that they can apply to their life, it will make them healthier and happier which makes them a better employee who is more connected and more fun."

For Kushner, 31, the idea of not working never crossed her mind.

"I went to law school so I didn't ever think that I wouldn't work. I always wanted to work," she said. "I realized when I got pregnant that I also wanted to be a full-time mom. I started thinking outside the box and came up with a mobile firm. It allows me to do both and give 100 percent to both."

Kushner left a job at a private firm to start her own practice. It allows her more flexibility and sometimes she even brings Aria to meetings with her.

"I've taken my daughter to real estate closings before. People seem to relax a little bit when she's around," she said, adding that the hardest part is prioritizing and balancing schedules.

That's a common issue for many parents.

Meanwhile, Lisa Freimann, occupational health nurse at State Farm in Bloomington, has twin daughters, Kirsten and Katie, 13. Freimann and her husband both work full-time and are saving for college.

"When they turned 3 years old, they went to pre-school full-time and I chose to go back to work full-time because my husband and I wanted to make sure we were able to save money for college, a new car and vacations," Freimann said, adding that State Farm also offers flexible work schedules.

The company has on-site fitness classes available, stress-management resources, chair massages and other parenting and child care resources.

With both parents working full-time, sometimes they have to miss school events, day-time activities and field trips, she said. The hardest part, she said, is juggling four schedules while working full-time and managing the household.

"The time we do have together we try to make it valuable. Every night we sit down as a family to have dinner and talk about the day," Freimann said.

Kushner's husband, Josh, also works full-time in banking as a portfolio manager. When her husband gets home from work, she is able to get work done and attend evening meetings.

She tries to get to bed by 11 p.m. and aims for seven hours of sleep, though that doesn't always happen.

"I think it is important to let little stuff go. If things don't always get picked up, it doesn't matter. It is more important to have fun with your kids in the moment," she said.

For Leann Seal, vice president of sales and marketing for the Snyder Cos. in Bloomington, living in the moment is made easier by the flexibility she's allowed in her schedule. That's helped her manage her work and home life for the past 17 years.

Despite that, her biggest challenge is not having enough time in the day.

Her son, Jackson, 9, has sports activities that often start at 5 p.m. Seal is allowed to leave work early to attend. When he was younger, she left in time to be home when he was done with school. But Seal admits that she isn't perfect, and that's OK, she said.

"Let go of making sure your house is spotless. Let go that you forgot to get milk on the way home. Don't worry if you had pizza twice a week and your son had Oreos for breakfast when you were getting ready for work," Seal said. "Those are the small things."

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