Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Real Talk With Rachel: Tipping the Scales on the Work/Life Balancing Act

by Rachel Kurzius

Dear Rachel,

I am a woman in my late-twenties and I am newly engaged. I love my fiance and the life we’ve built together. I am often anxious to leave work so I can get home and enjoy his company and plans we’ve made with friends.

I work in a corporate environment, where I have found lots of success. I love what I do but I have always been concerned that some of my co-workers do not do a very good job balancing their work with the rest of their lives. I am more concerned now that I feel so busy outside of work. One of my co-workers is always working. She is there first thing in the morning and I try to arrive when she does and leave when she does, which is later than necessary.

I don’t even know what she’s doing when she’s at her desk some of the time. I think she is just avoiding her life. I don’t want to do that. How can I live my life without seeming like a slacker at work?

Less Facetime, Please

Dear Less Facetime,

There’s one burning question I have for you -- what’s your performance like at work? In an ideal world, so long as you get your work done and done well, you shouldn’t have to put in “facetime” just for the sake of it. The quality of your work should speak loudly enough about your commitment to your job.

But as you well know, seeing people working long hours at their desks is an easy, if inaccurate, way for outsiders to determine their level of dedication, For bosses of bosses or other colleagues who might not have immediate access to your work, your hours provide some clues to your working patterns. Whether or not these impressions make a difference for you and your career prospects at this company depend entirely on where you work.

Are you compared unfavorably to your industrious co-worker when you leave early? I’ve worked at places where bosses promised that when I came and went didn’t matter, so long as I produced high-quality work. Sometimes, that was the truth and other times I learned that it wasn’t. Figure out where your boss lies on this spectrum. You could ask directly whether your boss values hours spent, but realize that you might have to read between the lines. It seems somehow “cool” to value excellence over hours spent to achieve it (the traditional quality versus quantity debate), so sometimes people respond with how they wish they evaluated things, rather than how they actually do.

I agree with you that a work-life balance is important. I know I feel more stimulated and inspired at work when I remember to close my work email account while at home, or take time to do something new. I’ve always found people who try to prove their dedication to their jobs by coming in when sick are misguided at best, and biological hazards at worst.

Sadly, I’ve noticed that our wonderful electronic devices, which make so many things so much easier, make it incredibly difficult to pull ourselves away from work. We can talk to anyone at any time, so there’s fewer excuses not to keep checking in. Somehow, we must be strong enough to trust our work and to trust ourselves -- in other words, turn off your Blackberry.

This also goes the other way. Our jobs and interests keep us invigorated for when we spend time with the people we love. The whole work/life balance thing does include work. So while I congratulate you on your engagement, and am thrilled you found someone who makes you so excited to see him, remember that you’ve still got to find a way to commit yourself to your work in the same way you used to do, if you want to be as well-regarded as you were before.

You are not in a competition with your co-worker over who works the most hours. Don’t let her dictate your schedule or intimidate you into spending wasted time at work. But do make sure that when you are working, you are doing a great job.

All the best,


Rachel Kurzius revels in giving advice, and has provided counsel both as a columnist and a friend. She lives in Washington DC, where she works as a news producer. Real Talk with Rachel is published on All Life is Local and the Cleveland Park Listserv,, on Wednesdays. Need advice? You can write to Rachel via or advice @

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