"Ask Marsha"

“Ask Marsha”: How Do You Maintain Work-Life Balance?

How do you maintain work-life balance and are the trade offs repairable?


It depends on what balance means to you, because it’s not always going to be 50-50. It’s more tradeoff, and those tradeoffs don’t have to be long-term. Sometimes you’re going to be doing things for work that are going to prevent you from doing some of the family and life things that you’d like to do. Other times you’ll be able to say “I’m giving the family 100 percent.” It’s good to be able to decide, on a case-by-case basis, how you’re going to do that.

Part of work-life balance is setting expectations. First, you have to set your expectations: What are you trying to get? What are you trying to do? And how can you best go about doing it?

Once you decide what your expectations are, determine if you can live with [them] and the consequences.

If you decide “I’m not having kids for three years because I want to make partner,” is that going to make you happy? If not, then you may want to do something a little different, and that does not mean giving up partnership or not having kids.

And then set other people’s expectations. [Not doing so] may lead to some of the things that causes problems down the road. It causes you guilt, it causes them anxiety and then they don’t trust you.

Sometimes you’re going to be working on a project and you’re going to have to say to the family, “I’m not going to be home to cook dinner; I can’t go to the soccer game; I won’t be able to get home at 6 or 7 o’clock this week.” Or it may be with your spouse. [You might have to say], “I can’t cook after work; I’m just too exhausted, but on Fridays let’s have date night.” Or, “I know my easiest day is Tuesday, let’s do something special.”

But if that continues on a regular basis, and becomes the norm, that’s a problem.


It depends on where you are. This is really one that requires finesse. As a receptionist, you’re not going to say, “I’m only going to work [this many] days a week and I’m leaving [at this time].” But as a vice president, you might say, “Once a week I’m leaving at five.”

However, nothing is cast in stone and staying late doesn’t necessarily mean you’re more productive. It goes back to how do you set yourself apart. Sometimes that means looking at where the gaps are, saying, “I do my job, but I also see some other things that I can do here that might be helpful and will help me stand out, and I can do those things and leave and five.” People have to look at ways that they can set themselves apart and not be judged by what other people do, but by what they bring to the table.


Competition is one — “They’re doing it, so I need to do it” — but the other thing is, it makes you more interesting when you’re not trying to do the same old thing. If you stay late everyday and work really hard because you want to be promoted … you miss the networking, you miss hanging out after work with colleagues, and I really see that as a barrier because they don’t get to know you for anything other than what you do. You think that you’re showing how dedicated you are and that you want to get ahead, but what you’re really showing is that you’re kind of one-sided.

I was working with a CEO of a very large organization and they were going to have some layoffs, they were going to outsource a department. They really weren’t sure which department, but they were looking at a lot of things and the department he decided [on] was the one who was always coming in and working extra hours. They thought they were showing dedication and tenacity and loyalty, but what they were really showing is that they couldn’t get their work done in time.


You can change at any time and especially if you’ve been good at what you do. You have more leverage than you think, if what you’re doing is of value. It’s so important to take the pulse of our organization and of ourselves to see if what we’re doing is still important. Is it important to us? Is it important to your organization? Is it important to your boss? Because just like your priorities shift, so do theirs.

You’re taking that pulse and then saying “I’m pulling some late hours, but that may not be the priority anymore. Let’s talk about how I can best help you and also try to get out of here at a decent time, so that I’m fresh to do what you need.” That way, you haven’t blamed him or her, you haven’t acted like a martyr and you’re also getting what you need.

As women, as people of color we need to better learn how to negotiate. Practice those things and keep in mind what’s in it for the person you’re talking to.

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