Posts Tagged ‘work/life balance’

Working Mothers

Monday, September 19th, 2011

The magazine Working Mother released its list of the 100 best employers. Although for-profit companies dominated the top rankings, three academic medical centers rated highly. University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics, Virginia Commonwealth University Health System, and Yale-New Haven Hospital have made family-friendly policies a priority.

Magazine editors looked for several programs that support working mothers:

  • Flex coupons that allow workers to take paid time off in increments
  • The ability to shift start and stop times
  • Compressed workweeks
  • Job sharing
  • On- and off-ramp programs
  • Options for employees to speed or slow their advancement without penalty

Some of the hospitals’ innovations include:

  • subsidized care for elderly relatives
  • on-site daycare
  • benefits for adopting children
  • college counseling for children of employees
  • legal and financial seminars

It’s telling that financial services companies figure highly on the list. Their commitment to flexible work policies should be a model for academic institutions keen on retaining faculty.

Avoiding Burnout

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

A new article in the journal Educational Research synthesizes studies of emotional exhaustion among faculty members in higher education. "Burnout in University Teaching Staff: A Systematic Literature Review" finds that younger faculty and those with more exposure to trainees suffer greater rates of burnout.

The study does not explore ways to prevent stress from building up, but suggests that mentoring and stress relief activities might help. Allowing for sabbaticals is another possible solution. Taking time to explore a new area or rekindle an old passion will refresh a faculty member when he or she returns to teaching.

Work to Live or Live to Work?

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Nigel Marsh found himself in the typical corporate rat race. He never had enough time to spend with his family and attend to his personal growth. When his company's fortunes turned, he decided to take a year off and reconnect with his family.

His money ran out, and he had to return to work, but he did so with newfound understanding. As he relates in a TED talk below, it's not enough to wait until retirement to enjoy your personal life. Nor is it realistic to expect to achieve balance every single day. But we can find inspiration in small gestures like meditation or a trip to the playground.

Parental Leave

Friday, March 4th, 2011

Moms Rising is an advocacy group that promotes more family-friendly policies. Their site contains some sobering statistics about balancing childrearing and working in the United States.

  • 51% of new mothers lack any paid leave -- so some take unpaid leave, some quit, some even lose their jobs.
  • The U.S is one of only 4 countries that doesn't require paid leave for new mothers -- the others are Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, and Lesotho.
  • Paid family leave has been shown to reduce infant mortality by as much as 20% (and the U.S. ranks a low 37th of all countries in infant mortality).

I've been researching parental leave policies for faculty at Boston University and Boston Medical Center. Female faculty here at least have the benefit of six or eight weeks of paid leave after childbirth, but additional time off is unpaid or taken from vacation or sick leave.

In the talk about work/life balance, the onus always seems to be on the individual to become more adept at juggling commitments. Some of the hurdles, however, are structural, and only changes in institutional policies can make it easier for workers to have fulfilling professional and personal lives.

Gen X Faculty

Monday, November 15th, 2010

The Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education, a research consortium based at Harvard's Graduate School of Education, conducted a survey of its member institutions about junior faculty satisfaction. As part of the project, researchers interviewed 16 faculty members born between 1964 and 1980, the cohort known as Generation X.

Although the sample size was small, it included faculty in fields as diverse as medicine and theater and roles from professor to provost. The surprising conclusion was that Gen X faculty perceive no clash in generational cultures in the workplace. They certainly prioritize differently than older colleagues, but they share a commitment to excellence in scholarship and institutional loyalty.

The area where Xers may stand out the most is their struggle to balance work and life. Dual-career couples and parents feel the pinch acutely. They do not expect their universities to solve the problem, but they welcome programs to mitigate the stress. These programs should have as their goals mentoring, community-building, and collegiality. In, this way, Gen X is leading the way for improving the work environment for all faculty.

The Happy Doctor

Friday, October 8th, 2010

I was reading a review of a new book called The Happy Lawyer: Making a Good Life in the Law and couldn't help but draw parallels to academic medicine.

In the book, the authors--law professors at the University of Missouri--cite statistics of how unhappy lawyers are. More than one-third of new associates in law firms leave within three years. Half of all lawyers would discourage their children from taking up the profession. It seems that the same demands for increased productivity that pervades medicine have made the legal field less satisfying.

Their recommendations to reinvigorate lawyering could just as easily apply to medical schools. They tell aspiring attorneys to choose a law school with students and faculty they relate to. Graduates of the top-tier law schools tend to be less pleased with their career choice than graduates of the fourth-tier schools. It's not prestige that matters.

They also advise finding a cause to motivate you, even if it's in a dull area of the law. Finally, they say to leave work at work and feel more comfortable with your family.

Sexual Health

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

This is the season for rankings. In addition to the U.S. News and World Report list of best colleges, the National Research Council released their scores of top doctoral programs. Of course, the Nobel Prizes are being announced this week.

In the midst of such accolades comes another ranking: The Fifth Annual Sexual Health Report Card, sponsored by Trojan condoms. In conjunction with a research firm, Trojan surveyed 141 U.S. universities on their resources for sexual health. The categories included:

  1. Health center hours of operation
  2. Availability of patient drop-in vs. appointment only
  3. Availability of separate sexual awareness program
  4. Contraceptive availability and cost
  5. Condom availability and cost
  6. HIV testing, cost and locality (on- vs. off-campus)
  7. Other STI testing, cost and locality (on- vs. off-campus)
  8. Availability of anonymous advice via email / newspaper column
  9. Existence of lecture / outreach programs
  10. Existence of student peer groups
  11. Availability of sexual assault programs
  12. Website usability and functionality

Columbia University came out on top followed by Michigan State, Ohio State, and the University of Michigan. Brigham Young and the University of Idaho came in last. Boston University was not surveyed.

As we work with students and trainees, it's important to consider if we make available the necessary resources for their overall well being. The rankings may lack the stature of other lists, but they remind us that--whether we acknowledge it or not--students are engaging in sexual activity and deserve access to information and contraception.

Losing Weight

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri is going on a diet. An alumna of the all female, liberal arts institution was talking to the college president about the rise of obesity in the United States.

The conversation turned to the president's own excess pounds and how difficult it is to balance work and exercise. The alumna challenged the president to lose 25 pounds in exchange for a $100,000 gift. The president agreed but proposed that the alumna give $1 million if the college staff could lose a collective 250 pounds by the end of the year.

With the financial motivation, the campus is making it easier to live healthfully: starting walking clubs, adding more nutritious food to the cafeteria, and setting an example for other employees.

Particularly at an academic medical center, the lessons of this experiment are even more relevant. The institution can make it easier to opt for healthy choices, but individuals must prioritize their own health. It's not an either/or because being healthy allows faculty and staff members to work more effectively.

Living Unplugged

Monday, August 16th, 2010

So much of our professional lives involves digital technology. From our phones to our computers, we rely on instant connectivity. Then, when we relax, we use some of the very same machines to entertain us.

During this month of vacations, I'm reminded of an experiment popular in many media studies classes. Students go a day without accessing any form of media. When it's over, they write about their experiences. Not surprisingly, some of them can't even make it to the end of the day without plugging in. But for those who succeed, there are rewards.

When I returned from vacation, it had been a week since I checked e-mail and as long since I read a U.S. newspaper. I found that I had not missed much by skipping my daily blog scans and Facebook messages. At the same time, I became more aware of the place where I was and the world around me.

It's also humbling to realize that when you're unplugged, the workplace and the news cycle continue just fine without you.

The Mommy Track

Friday, July 16th, 2010

As academic departments look to achieve gender balance in their faculty, the competing demands of scholarship and parenting become more acute. A study released by the Association of American University Professors (and nicely summarized in the the Washington Post) provides more evidence that female academics are feeling overwhelmed.

It's not news that the building years of a faculty member's career overlaps exactly with a woman's childbearing window. The burden of establishing a research agenda while raising a family puts women in "survival mode." What struck me about the study was that professors who become fathers at the same age experience a positive effect. They do not miss opportunities for career advancement or suffer from the perception that parenting detracts from their professional work.

The message for universities seems to be accommodation. Make timelines for advancement more flexible. Allow options to take leave without penalty. As much as structural changes are needed, attitudes about working mothers need to change as well.