Work-Life Balance Begins and Ends With Family First
It finally struck me after about the 50th time I had to duck out of a meeting to take a phone call related to my aging parents.
Doctors had questions about family medical history. Caregivers were looking for me or a sibling to let us know that Mom just fell. Or my sister was calling to say that something came up with her family and she couldn’t take Dad to an appointment.
“If I could just take the next 8 weeks off, I could focus on getting my parents safe and healthy … and then get back to spending 100% of my work time concentrating on work.”
Let’s step back a bit. I am the CEO of AppNeta, a technology company I co-founded a little over 4 years ago. Like many people my age, I am part of the growing “sandwich generation”—a generation whose responsibilities include my own immediate family as well as my aging parents. My parents are in their 80s, and a few years back, their health began to slowly decline.
The changes were small at first, subtle enough that they still managed living on their own in the same house where I once lived, caring for themselves, and of course insisting they were fine. But as time went by, my mom—who already beat cancer—was facing a swelling host of issues resulting in a rapid and scary decline in her health. The load on my dad as her primary caregiver was enacting a material toll on his health too. We were now entering crisis mode.
At first I wasn’t too concerned—I’m very fortunate to have a big family that can all pitch in, and luckily my wife was in good position to help. At first we all took turns staying around the clock with my parents which stabilized things. My wife ended up embedding herself into their daily routine for several more weeks both to observe and provide my parents with better care. After about six weeks, these efforts had a positive impact on both physical health and spirits for my parents, and provided us with the insight we needed to consider longer-term options.
Together with the family, my parents made the difficult decision to sell their home and move to an independent living facility. This move has worked out well and they’re in a much better (and healthier) place now and are truly happy in their new home. Whew!
The journey was hard and the extra mental energy I spent trying to balance work and personal life was real. Looking back, I couldn’t help but wonder, “What if I had to do this by myself - where would my parents be now?”
That’s when I started to ask myself if we could create a solution that was simple and powerful—and do more than pay lip service to the concept of “family first.”
Each person’s situation and means are different. Not everyone has the resources I had available to them. And yet these challenges affect us throughout our lives—from when we are having children, to our own health challenges, to taking care of our extended family—whether we might be Millennials just starting out or members of Gen X or the “sandwich generation”.
The benefits most companies, especially startups, offer employees force them to make hard choices: work, family or a patchwork approach that doesn’t really serve either. The family suffers, the employee suffers and the company suffers too.
It’s a false choice and I don’t want any of our employees to have to make that tradeoff. To that end, we are introducing new family and personal leave policies that allow time for AppNetians to care for their families and themselves, whether it’s welcoming a new member to the family, caring for a relative, or dealing with a personal health issue.
Specifically, we are now offering all of our full- and part-time employees significantly lengthened maternity, paternity and adoption leaves; extended employee wellness support at 100 percent pay for recuperation from serious illnesses; and up to 10 weeks of family wellness support to care for parents, children, spouses or legal partners.
I don’t want any AppNeta employee to ever think they have to choose between work or family; we work to live, not the other way around. I’m proud of the support our company can show to the people who make it great.