20 February 2019
One should first reconcile with oneself before reconciling with family, company and society. Photo: HKEJ
One should first reconcile with oneself before reconciling with family, company and society. Photo: HKEJ

Masters of our destiny – my work, my family and me

Reconciliation is in fashion.

We are tired of hearing how companies and governments boast about their plans and measures for employees and citizens to reconcile work and family.

Facts show that those who try to achieve a balance don’t have an easy time of it and are often forced to choose between work, family and their personal life.

So, is it possible to find an equilibrium between these three pillars?

Where should we start?

The first step toward achieving a balance is our willingness to improve the reality in which we live and become masters of our own destiny.

This entails:

Reconciling with oneself

Changing the reality that surrounds us requires us to modify things within ourselves.

Knowing ourselves helps us to understand reality better and deepen our identity, giving us a security we can later transmit to others.

Understanding oneself is fundamental to identifying the mission we have in life, and to prioritizing the roles we undertake.

Reconciliation with oneself comprises all elements of one’s character, bearing in mind that the perfect person does not exist.

Three elements influence personality: genetics, rationality and emotions.

These last two dimensions are dynamic, in that they tend to create imbalances.

How can these imbalances be corrected?

There are several ways: through understanding oneself, through compensation mechanisms and with the help of a coach.

Understanding oneself includes recognizing the conscious and unconscious motives that lead us to make our decisions.

Motives can be grouped into three main categories:

• Extrinsic: coming from the social setting (money, fame and so on)

• Intrinsic: linked to the action itself and internal in origin (learning, the challenge or pleasure obtained from the action and so on)

• Transcendental: originating in the person, but whose object is another, where the actions have positive repercussions on them

These three types of motives can simultaneously influence any decision, yet they have a different weight depending on each person and his or her particular structure of motives.

Understanding the motives that drive our decisions is essential in order to determine whether we are the masters of our own life or whether our environment has taken control.

The more we manage to shift the weight of the motives toward the transcendental, the closer we are to being masters of ourselves.

Reconciling with family

Today, owing to long working hours, individuals tend to focus on the nuclear family, relegating the extended family to the sidelines, without considering the consequences.

Society needs leaders who understand themselves well and who know how to move with some degree of fluidity.

The family is an institution halfway between the individual and society.

It’s the perfect environment in which to achieve balanced progress and to develop personal and professional abilities essential for joining the workforce and society in the future.

Let us consider the different roles a person has within the family (husband/wife, father/mother, son/daughter, grandparent) and the roles taken on by in-laws (son/daughter-in-law, brother/sister-in-law and so on).

It would be good to prioritize the roles following a hierarchy to avoid feeling overwhelmed by simultaneous demands from the whole family.

Following a hierarchy leads to a family balance that avoids confusion, unease, lack of unity and feeling guilty.

Within the family, all types of role models can be found, masculine and feminine, which integrate all ages, characters and professions.

This range of role models makes the family the ideal environment in which to achieve balanced progress and to develop personal, professional and social abilities.

Reconciling work and family

The difficulty here lies in the fact that the line between the two has become increasingly vague.

Stress at work can cause a surge in tension within the family, leading to less quality time spent at home.

The problem occurs when one area takes priority and jeopardizes the other.

This does not necessarily imply that we spend more time on the prioritized area, since we ordinarily spend much more time in the office than at home.

However, this should not be an obstacle to putting the family first.

Many times the work of the housewife is undervalued, even though homemaking is one of the most difficult and worthwhile jobs, because it entails creating human and social capital and brings new consumers into the world.

Housework and caring for the family are a source of constant development.

Reconciling our job and family implies much more than adjusting working hours — it means reconciling life itself!

And it requires a plan committed to total success, which comprises all aspects of life: personal, family, professional and social.

The relationship between work and family has been maintained in different ways throughout history.

I would like to propose a new model: freedom of choice.

This alternative takes into account that each family has its own profile and preferences and goes through different times, needs and work possibilities, in various stages.

Reconciling with the company

The third pillar of our life is the profession.

The company is one of the places where we spend the most time, and because of this, the activities undertaken there have an impact on individuals and society.

The specific mission of a company as an institution is to generate wealth and share it equitably.

However, we cannot forget that the generic mission of any human organization is to help staff grow personally and professionally, and to facilitate the development of friendships.

As such, the company should aim to develop its employees through learning and intrinsic and transcendental motives.

The type of links formed between the employee and the company depends on the type of motives in place.

Each staff member in a company has a personal and family mission but also a professional mission, which should be integrated at work.

As professionals, employees must comply with the corporate mission to satisfy the needs of clients.

However, employees also have a personal mission, which is to form friendships with colleagues and bosses.

The failure of a good fit between company and employee is the result of a flawed recruitment process.

Companies should reassess their recruitment processes by carefully considering their needs.

Individuals must also make an effort to learn more about the type of company they are going to work for and if they would fit into that sort of environment.

The mass entry of women into the workforce has forced companies to re-examine their mission and to accommodate flexibility if they want diversity in the office.

Many companies are initiating a real period of change toward work-life reconciliation and adapting more flexible working hours.

Some companies aim to obtain accreditation as a “Family Responsible Company”, some to improve their image or brand; others because legislation or a trade union requires it.

The most proactive companies seek the accreditation because they have a wide, long-term vision of reconciling work and family for their employees.

Reconciling with Society

Why is individual action needed in society?

Markets and legal frameworks are not enough to guarantee that citizens contribute to society.

To make progress, we have to increase human efficiency in society as well as improve technical efficiency.

It is important for individuals to adapt well to the environment in which they live, without becoming absorbed by the air they breathe.

Through the various roles they take on in society (political as members of the electorate, economic as consumers, and social as the humanizing factors of society), people influence other people.

Not everyone can contribute in the same way, because not everyone has identical opportunities.

However, we are all responsible and should make a commitment to society.

This is an edited version of a speech the writer gave at an event organized by the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce’s Women Executives Club on Dec. 1

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Professor in the Managing People in Organizations Department at IESE Business School; Director of the International Center on Work and Family

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