Mad Men: work-life balance

October 25, 2010

There’s been lively blogging and a wide variety of analyses of Mad Men in major publications since the show’s finale.

Here’s a paragraph that struck me:

We talk about how Betty’s a bad parent, and Don’s a bad parent, but rarely about how the way work — and, particularly, this kind of obsessive Manhattan work world — is eclipsing all other sorts of power and order, requiring and overtaking more and more of people’s values and lives. When, at a funeral, there’s more talk of money than religion, more talk of work trips than the journey to the afterlife, the show’s making a point. – Logan Hill in New York magazine

Readers who haven’t worked in business may think the funeral scene was just a plot point. But I’m here to tell you that just two years ago, someone I knew “made an appearance” at a funeral of a well-known community member partly to network to drum up business. Shockingly, he even posted on Facebook that he was AT the funeral {I guess he thought it would give him status} , and then, thinking that it perhaps wasn’t such a great idea, quickly deleted the post.

As Nina Garcia often says on Project Runway, in her tiny little accent: “I question your taste level.”

I didn’t have kids, so I was able to give my career as much time as I wanted. But I’ve watched quite a few people sacrifice healthy home lives for business. It’s no accident that they are mostly from my generation; work-home balance is relatively new concept that subsequent generations are more likely to aim for.
Work can consume us. Expectations of 60 or 70-hour work weeks are not out of the ordinary in high-achieving organizational cultures. High-achieving usually means money-oriented: law firms, Wall St., tech startups, competitive corporations.

Women, who still have primary responsibility for child care and the family, really struggle with this. The Mommy Track is definitely NOT the fast track to success.

And that’s what we’re talking about: success. How is it really defined?

Madison Avenue of the 1960s defined it one way. We’d like to think that we have evolved beyond that. That we look out our lives and success more holistically.

And perhaps, in some organizational outposts, we have.

But overall? Not really.

It’s a fine balance. Hard work is not such a bad thing. It can give us a feeling of accomplishment. It builds character. It earns our living. Helps us provide for our families.

When family life is sacrificed, though, it is a problem.

You can see it in Mad Men. The men work, period. They take no responsibility at all for the kids. In fact, they’re a little uncomfortable with them.

Many corporations today still have a narrow definition of commitment, though. Apple is in my neighborhood and the parking lot is full well into the evening. Same with a number of other nearby tech companies.

Still, many dads today are committed to a more reasonable schedule and are very involved in their kids’ lives. There’s much more balance within the family.

It’s a trend that I hope continues. Because, really, it’s all about the children. Or should be.

2 comments on “Mad Men: work-life balance
  1. Anonymous says:

    It really stopped being about the kids years ago.

    It is so much more about the parents and their plans and wishes. You should never have to work more than you spend time with your family. No one seems to PLAN for children. They just show up and then you are working two jobs or even one job 80 hours a week to make ends meet.


  2. Cindy Goodman says:

    I enjoyed your post. It’s really interesting to see how attitudes have changed or stayed the same over the recent decades. People work just as hard but what’s acceptable to sacrifice has changed.

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