Balancing act: After 2 years, 'new' job still teaches work-life lessons
A couple of weeks ago, my boss came to me and asked if I would be willing to serve on a committee that deals with proposed changes to our company's policies and procedures.
This was a fairly unremarkable request in most ways, as all the managers at my company take their turns serving on such committees. However, even though it may not be the most exciting assignment, I still saw it as a milestone of sorts.
After all, if I'm getting asked to serve on a corporate committee, it must mean that I've been around long enough that I'm no longer flying under the radar.
I reflected on this Friday as I marked my second anniversary at what I still consider to be my "new" job. (I brought doughnuts for my team to mark the occasion, which is also unremarkable if you know me at all.)
As I talked to some of my team members about this milestone, they said it was hard to believe two years had passed already. I was glad to hear that, as I think it would be a bad sign if they commented on how long and torturous the time had been.
I'm even happier to report that I'm also amazed at how the years have flown by.
But even though they've gone quickly, I feel like I have had the time to learn quite a few things, both at work and at home.
At work, I believe another year of experience working with my amazing team of 10 people has made me a better manager, although not necessarily in ways I would have expected.
It's been a rather challenging year for our team in some ways. For example, a couple of my co-workers have been blessed with babies in their homes. While parenthood is exciting and fun, they're also dealing with the sleep deprivation and schedule adjustments that come along with their new adventures.
A few other team members have had older children leave, either to college or to new opportunities. And some have dealt with health problems or transitions related to their spouses' jobs.
None of this may seem to be work-related, but I've learned how important it is for me, as a manager, to be aware of the off-the-job struggles people are facing.
Just as I'm grateful for the flexibility my boss has given me to attend to family responsibilities, I try to offer that same flexibility to people on my team. That means I work with them when the new parents want to be there for their babies' doctor appointments or when a more experienced parent wants to spend some time with a child who will soon be moving out to go to college.
I understand their quest for work-life balance, because I'm trying to find the same thing. It would be hypocritical for me to enjoy something I wasn't willing to help someone else build.
But beyond that, I believe offering flexibility is the right thing to do. These are real people with real families, and it's important to me that they are happy in both their work and personal lives.
As I've mentioned before, the members of my team who are in positions that allow them to work from home are incredibly productive when they do so, which makes it easier to offer them such flexibility. I've always been a manager who is more concerned with the work getting done than with face time in the office, and the challenges of the last year have confirmed, for me, the validity of that perspective.
At home, these last two years have taught me that I absolutely picked the right time to move to a career that offered nights, weekends and holidays that are almost always free of work responsibilities.
My four children are getting older, and as the parents out there know, that means they're also getting busier. My oldest is a sophomore in high school now, and my two younger daughters are in middle school. My son, the youngest Kratz child, is in second grade.
If I still worked the hours I had in my previous career, I don't know how my wife and I would work out the logistics of transporting our children to three different schools, much less shuttling them to all of their various extracurricular activities.
But the lessons of the last couple of years go beyond those tangible benefits of a more rational schedule. My children don't just need a chauffeur. They need a father.
I've tried to use some of my time to get better at that job, too. For example, I strive to listen more carefully when my kids are talking so they know I truly care about them and their interests. And since I'm not always pulling out a laptop to finish up work from home in the evenings, I make an effort to enjoy the little moments of fun or silliness that develop when we spend time together.
I'm also learning more about the importance of always — always! — building my relationship with my wife. I wrote a few weeks ago about our anniversary weekend getaway and the benefits of such time together, and we're also figuring out ways to have regular date nights despite all of our kids' activities and her incredibly busy volunteer schedule.
I still need to get better at really listening to her and to our children, focusing intently on what they have to say and blocking out the distractions that are clamoring for my attention. But I'm committed to doing so, and I think I'm improving as the weeks and months go by.
Two years into this new gig, I'm still far from perfect as a manager, a father or a husband. But I'm glad I have the time and energy to work on getting better at all three.
And that definitely made Friday's anniversary one worth celebrating.