Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Work-Life Balance

Work-Life Balance is an issue we all struggle with throughout our careers, especially in the Foreign Service. The nature of the job, and of the people drawn to it, is such that the work never really ends, and you can pour every ounce of yourself into it.

At your hazard.

I have been told that you HAVE to either work nights or weekends, and usually both. Junior Officers (sorry, still can't call you guys ELOs...that is still a group whose music is in my ipod) are told they must work overtime and not charge for it (a topic for another post, but short answer is yes you can and should put in for it but you shouldn't charge for ALL of it). I have even heard that it is really just better if you are single.

But to survive and thrive in this career and in life, you need your family. Yet we have to deal with stresses on the family that are not typical to most careers, such as unaccompanied tours, spousal employment opportunities (or lack thereof), dealing with the educational and developmental needs of our children while in a foreign country, ...the list goes on.

AFSA is having a panel discussion on the topic, which is also covered this month in the Foreign Service Journal, tomorrow at 2 pm at the AFSA headquarters (2101 E Street NW). Please attend if you can (I can't...I have area studies. Any bets on whether it will be worth missing this program?). If you plan to go, please RSVP to

AFSA has assembled for the panel Margot Carrington, an FSO studying work-life issues on a year-long Una Chapman Cox Foundation Fellowship; Steve Morrison, a Foreign Commercial Service Officer and the parent of a special-needs child; Kathie Lingle, a nationally-renowned expert on work-life issues at the Alliance for Work-Life Progress; and Judy Ikels, Chief of the Work Life Division in HR.

The Family Liaison Office (FLO) will also have representatives on hand to discuss the work-life resources they have available to all FS employees.

I also encourage you to check out an article in the Post's Federal Diary today, Balancing work and family on foreign turf, by Joe Davidson.

He discusses Morrison, and the way he and the Department dealt, ultimately successfully, with his son's needs:

[...] Morrison’s is a success story. His son is doing well.

He’ll tell that story at a program about work-life balance, which the American Foreign Service Association will sponsor at its headquarters Thursday afternoon. But all of the stories Foreign Service officers can tell about that balance don’t necessarily have happy endings.

Yet the degree of grousing among people who have been posted abroad is surprisingly low. And whatever complaints they have are often countered by a telling of the many benefits Foreign Service officers and their families receive.

The demands of serving Uncle Sam in distant lands can be tough to balance. In addition to Foreign Service officers’ jammed workdays, nights can be filled with receptions and dinners for visiting dignitaries, and emergencies and diplomatic crises.

This all occurs in a place with a different language, different laws, and different customs and traditions. It can be difficult to maintain a family under those pressures. The May issue of AFSA’s magazine, the Foreign Service Journal, reported that 64 percent of survey respondents said family concerns could cause them to leave the Foreign Service. The lack of spousal employment was, by far, the problem that caused Foreign Service officers the most stress, according to the survey.

AFSA President Susan Johnson said the examination of work-life balance was organized because of a concern that “the quality of family life has deteriorated” for Foreign Service officers over the years. Greater security concerns and the need for two incomes are among the items that cause problems, she said.

“All of those things add stress,” she said, “but the nature of Foreign Service work makes it more challenging.”


I encourage you to read the entire article here.

And I encourage you to place a premium on your work-life balance, because it makes you a healthier person, and therefore a better representative for our country.

When your career is over, what will you have other than memories (and no one to share them with) if you give up your family in the process.


Bfiles said...

I must say, the FS journal issue on this topic was not very encouraging...

Anonymous said...

Great post! I'm wondering if it is possible for you to expand on the comment about not charging for overtime this indeed common practice? Are alternatives offered such as comp time, etc?

Anna said...

I couldn't agree more! My old job as an engineer was even less family-friendly. We'd lived wherever the project was, and often just had a week's notice we were moving. I saw too many men (still not enough women engineers!), who had succombed to the job pressures to work around the clock, and lost their families as a result. You have to know when to push back and put your family first :) I just worked an extra 10% without charging for it.