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Michelle Robindell is just one of many parents with a university education who struggles to balance work with family

Work-life balance eludes highly educated

Michelle Robindell gave birth the same way she does business. She didn’t waste time. Her last day of work was…

By stephaniek , in Feature story , on March 23, 2013 Tags: , , , , , ,

Michelle Robindell gave birth the same way she does business. She didn’t waste time. Her last day of work was a Friday, her water broke on Saturday, and her son Oscar arrived on Sunday.

Robindell, 36, has her BA in psychology, works full-time as a manager at BC Hydro and is in the process of becoming a life coach. With two kids, she is one of many university-educated Vancouverites trying to balance a busy job with a family.

“Even on the Sunday when I’m at the park with my kids, I’ll open my email and see there’s something going on,” she said. “So I feel the need to respond to it. Even if I don’t respond, it’s in the back of my mind. So it’s taking away from my focus on my family.”

It’s not common to hear that an expensive university education and a well-paying job have downsides.

But a recent study found that university-educated people with children in dual-earning homes are significantly less likely to be satisfied with their work-family balance than those without the post-secondary credential. The study used Statistics Canada data from 1998 and 2005, which surveyed how happy people were with their work-life balance based on how much time they spent at work and at home.

It’s clear that the topic is a hot one in the professional world. The decision by Yahoo president and CEO Marissa Mayer banning employees from working at home, after she had a nursery built next to her office, generated a torrent of headlines and public debate.

Karen Duncan, a University of Manitoba professor of family social sciences and co-author of the Canadian study, says many people pursue a university degree for stability and a higher paycheque. But many jobs that require post-secondary education also come with added pressures, like more responsibility and extra hours in the office.

“With higher education comes higher expectation,” Duncan said.

Live chat: Prof Karen Duncan answers your questions on Wednesday 27 March, 10.00 PST.

According to her, these jobs also often rely heavily on communications technology. Portable computers and cell phones allow work to follow people home.

That’s something that happens a lot less for people doing jobs that don’t require a university degree.

[pullquote]When I’m home, I can do what I have to for the family.[/pullquote]Karl Gysbers, 32, works up to 55 hours a week as a construction plumber, something he has done for over a decade. And he started working night shifts in January.

But he is content with his work-family balance because he doesn’t think about work when he’s home.

“We [plumbers] don’t have to take it home,” he says. “So when I’m home, I can do what I have to for the family.”

He gets home at 5 a.m. and sleeps until 2 p.m. every day. Though he says this isn’t an ideal schedule for everyone, it allows him to spend more time with his wife, six-year-old daughter and newborn son.

Working moms juggle kids and career

Robindell, on the other hand, brings work home with her every Friday. She has the morning off and then works on her laptop in the afternoon while her kids nap for two or three hours. This allows her some flexibility, but sometimes they wake up earlier than usual, which throws her off-balance.

“When I’m at home and the kids are asking me questions and I feel like I’m focused on my laptop, it’s hard,” Robindell said. “I feel like I’m pulled in two opposite directions.”

Jill Earthy feels the same way. As an entrepreneur and mom of two, balancing work and family is part of her daily life.

[pullquote]I was travelling all the time. There was no way. And if I stopped working, revenue stopped coming in.[/pullquote]Earthy, who has her MBA in entrepreneurship, is director for the Canadian Youth Business Foundation in British Columbia and the Yukon Territories.

Between business meetings and conference calls, she has to squeeze in parent-teacher interviews and story-time with her girls.

Earthy always knew she wanted to have a family but, as a business owner, leaving her job wasn’t an option.

“I was travelling all the time. There was no way. And if I stopped working, revenue stopped coming in. So I felt a lot of burden.”

Earthy knows she’s not alone and has worked to connect other women feeling the pressure of being a parent and a professional.

In 2007, she founded momcafé, a networking group for business savvy mothers. It is now in eight cities across the country. She is also co-chair of the WEB alliance—a collaboration of women’s business networks in the city.

But there are times when she finds  tough to live in both worlds.

“It depends on the day to be honest. Some days I feel good, but I think the other part is that sometimes I do feel guilty… you don’t feel like you’re giving your all to everything and there’s no solution for that.”

“I’m trying to just embrace that guilt and know that I am going to do the best that I can.”

Self-employment not the answer

So it might seem like people who can be their own bosses, with the option to set flexible hours, have the best chance at finding balance. But no, Duncan’s study revealed that, while self-employment might lead to more independence, it also often means more stress and family conflict.

Mohamed Helal, who owns Marché Pastry & Bakery on Kingsway near Clark, struggles to balance his time at home and time spent at work. Originally from Germany, he has his masters in baking art and hospitality.

He opened Marché four months ago in Vancouver, and he says money is tight.

On a Wednesday afternoon, the tables sit empty at the Marché.

But Helal says he’s invested too much time and money to give up now. However, since he cannot afford to pay many employees, he ends up working 12- to 15-hour days.

And long hours means that Helal rarely sees his daughter, two sons and his grandson.

“I start to lose my family life,” he says, “which is my wife, my kids. I don’t enjoy them because I’m working very hard…I’m even over-stressed when I go home because I’m thinking still about the business. Worrying still about my worker, my customer, everything.”