Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Small World

About a decade ago, I started my first permanent job at a dynamic company. It was full of whip-smart young people, who were lured to this employer by some very friendly policies. We were probably paid more than our competitors, we received great health benefits, a generous 401(k) matching program, and a kitchen area fully stocked with snacks and drinks. I worked a few desks down from a guy named Paul, an intense and very, very good economics reporter.

I left that company not long after my daughter was born after trying -- and failing -- to come to an arrangement that would allow me to balance work and my newfound desire to be an involved father.

As it turns out, Paul, whose professional life was forged in the same crucible, is now also a father. Though he, too, left the company years ago, and he is now writing professionally about ... family issues. He's working for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and just launched a PI-hosted blog called Family Man. It's worth checking out -- some parent hacks, some trendspotting, some other, hard-to-categorize treats.

Paul actually makes the second erstwhile colleague of mine who is doing heavy thinking on family. Another -- a Newhouse reporter named Katherine Lewis -- has also written a great deal on work-family balance (thanks again to RD readers who have helped out Katherine in the past).

The fact three former employees of a company with a hard-driving culture would "grow up" to think more and more about family is fascinating, and probably not coincidental. My former employer could very well be the kind of company that will first feel the pressures of the daddy wars. Though they have tried to give employees what has traditionally been seen as excellent benefits, our experience underscores that until you begin to understand that flexibility is the lynchpin benefit, you won't be able to retain employees, no matter how good the snacks in the kitchen.

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