Strive to Harmonize Work and Family Life
What a spirit is here. Wow. I was sitting on the stand; my wife, Cami, nudged me and said, “This is a beautiful group of students.” And it is. What a wonderful, beautiful group of students that is beautiful on the outside and on the inside.
President Richards got one thing wrong in my introduction; we had our 17th grandchild yesterday. So we’re excited. And we have four more coming before the end of the year. That’s what happens when you have 12 children. The truth be known; professors often study those things they have the most difficulty with, and if you can imagine having a position at Brigham Young University and having 12 children and 17 grandchildren, and having responsibilities in the Church, sometimes it’s difficult to find harmony among all of those responsibilities.
Do any of you ever feel stressed? A few polite chuckles there. I would say that a lot of you do feel stressed, but actually that’s not the way of the Savior. The Savior is a path of peace. He wants us to feel the comfort of the Holy Ghost with us constantly, He wants us to feel the guidance of the Spirit in our lives, He wants us to serve in every area that we are. And my particular talk today is to look at particularly harmonizing work and family life. But as we talk about this, it can be finding harmony among any callings in life. It could be your schooling and your family life, or your Church responsibilities or your community responsibilities—they all fit together.
At Brigham Young University, I teach a class on the Proclamation on the Family. (See “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” at https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/the-family-a-proclamation-to-the-world/the-family-a-proclamation-to-the-world?lang=eng) And the Proclamation gives us clear guidance about family life, and one of the things it says is that it is our responsibility to both provide for and to nurture our families. It says that it is the father’s primary responsibility to provide but also the father’s responsibility to partner with his wife in nurturing the family. It also says that it’s the mother’s primary responsibility to nurture her family but also to partner with the father in providing for the family. And so, both of these are important responsibilities, and to do them together, being fully involved as a spouse and parent, and adequately providing for the family—it’s tough. It’s difficult to do that.
Bishop Keith B. McMullin said, “As we meet with Church leaders around the world, one challenge seems universal: having enough time to do everything that needs doing.”And that is a challenge. As we struggle to juggle, we have to make decisions constantly. We may wrestle whether to work late on an important work project and sacrifice a family activity that we had planned. Or maybe we have to struggle about an important family engagement—maybe a birthday party—when something happens at work that demands attention. How do we make those decisions, and how do we do that in harmony?
What I would like to do today is to share a metaphor—the way that we can think. Oftentimes, it’s easier to change the way we think about something than it is to change external circumstances. We may not be able to change the due date on an assignment in class, but the way we think about that due date, either with dread or with confidence, might make the difference in how we feel about it.
So the metaphor that I would like to introduce is a musical metaphor. Instead of thinking about juggling all of these responsibilities, I would like you to think about your life with a metaphor of harmony. And just as a conductor and a composer can create and direct a beautiful piece of music that has lots of different parts, I would invite you to be the composer and orchestrator and conductor of your own life’s symphony.
This metaphor, in my scholarly research, is gaining more momentum. In the past, people who have looked at work and family have looked at work/family conflict. And they’ve emphasized how work gets in the way of family life and makes family life more difficult, and how family life or having children makes work life more difficult. But this metaphor is actually looking for how these different aspects of work and family actually benefit each other.
When I was a researcher at IBM, once we did a study to find the best managers at IBM. What were the characteristics of the best managers at IBM? Guess who we found were the best managers? They were mothers. They were not just any mothers, but mothers of teenage children—made the best managers at IBM. And why was that? If you can manage a home with teenage children, you can manage anything.
But in serious, there is so much to be learned in the workplace that can benefit our homes; so much to be learned at home that can benefit the workplace. So I hope you will think of, as we go through this devotional, ways that we can harmonize our work and family life. There is no one sure-fire cure for doing so, but I’d like to share seven things—seven suggestions. And as we go through each of them, I would invite you to examine your own heart, see which of these suggestions you might implement so that you can claim the blessing of greater harmony and less stress in your life.
The first suggestion is to enhance energy in your life. It used to be thought that it was the amount of time that you spent that caused conflict among different activities. But the research shows now it’s not the amount of time but the amount of energy that is either consumed or created by the activities that are engaged in. And so one suggestion is simply to look at ways to increase the number of energy-creating activities. When I’m in the classroom and ask the students, “What are some of the things that bring you energy?” I get a lot of responses. Commonly I hear people who will say, “Well, exercise increases energy. When I go out jogging and I come back, I feel energized.” Some people don’t believe that that’s the case. Others will say that music creates energy, and listening to the kind of music that we heard today certainly is an energy creator.
It is very interesting, but in almost every class there is a student—typically a young woman—who will say, “Cleaning brings me energy. When I see a messy room and I clean it up, why, I feel energized.” That’s not how I am. Others will say reading or taking a nap or other things are ways. But the principle is, find the ways that create energy for you, and then do more of those things.
When I give this type of seminar to a group of business people—and you’re LDS Business College—one of the things that we found in our research is that typically a job is energy-depleting, and typically family life is energy-creating. So actually, one strategy is that, while you are at work, several times a day, is to connect with your home, with your family life, with a loved one.
When I first started at IBM, it was very segmented. It was keep your work at work and your home at home. But we found that IBM-ers are more effective and more productive when they do connect with their loved ones during the day. So that’s one suggestion.
Another suggestion with energy is the principle of spillover—whatever emotional state you have when you leave work, you carry that over into the home. And so if you organize your work to do something interesting or engaging at the end of the workday, then you will bring more energy home with you.
A final suggestion for work and family harmony relating to energy is to use your commute time to create energy. As you’re going to and from work, do something that creates energy. One of the things that I do is to sing. No one likes to hear me sing, so I don’t sing for others very often. But I like to sing, so on the way to work I’ll roll up the windows and sing loud with some of my 1970s music, and it brings me a lot of energy. But the principle is just using that time to create energy.
The second suggestion is to increase quality time. As you look at your life, see if you can organize it to put each moment to its best use and to be flexible. You’re all students—you know there are certain times when you study better than at other times. Try to organize your life such that you can study at those times that are most beneficial.
When we have limited time, it’s important to take advantage of the moments that we have. I wanted to read a quote by Elder Dallin Oaks. While he was in his third year of law school and also had important Church responsibilities, he recalls: “My favorite play activity with the little girls was ‘daddy be a bear.’ When I came home from my studies for a few minutes at lunch and dinnertime, I would set my books on the table and drop down on all fours on the linoleum. Then, making the most terrible growls, I would crawl around the floor after the children, who fled with screams but always begged for more.”
I think that’s an example of quality time—of using the time that you have. He could have easily just sat down exhausted, but he took that time for a special moment. There are certain times that are extremely valuable. In the research that I have studied, there are people who look at rituals for saying goodbye in the morning, and rituals for when you come home. And those families that have something that they do for the minute or two before someone leaves the home are much stronger.
For example, kneeling in prayer and having a prayer and then having a big hug is something that will be helpful. One of my colleagues at BYU, Jason Carroll, says that if you hug someone that you love for 18 seconds, it releases endorphins in your system and you feel connected to that person. So why not take 18 seconds before your loved one leaves for the day to give that person a hug and feel that closeness?
Mealtime is also a very important quality time. Ezra Taft Benson said, “Happy conversation, sharing of the day’s plans and activities, and special teaching moments occur at mealtime because mothers and fathers and children work at it.”Perhaps arranging the family schedule so that they can eat, the family dinnertime together, will be something that brings a lot of harmony in one’s life.
A recent study of National Merit scholars found that these extremely bright high school students that won these top scholarships, the thing that they had in common was that they almost always ate dinner with their families and also engaged in stimulating conversation.
Another important crossroads time is when you come home from work—when someone comes home from work, having a ritual of connection there. Cami and I have one of those—as was mentioned, we’re blending a family and we’re quite affectionate and we’re in love with each other, but sometimes it’s a little bit uncomfortable to express that affection among, with the children around. So we have a ritual where we have a mudroom and when I walk in the garage door, she meets me in the mudroom and closes the door, and then we get two or three minutes of heaven in the mudroom to become reacquainted.
I promised that I wouldn’t embarrass her, and I guess I broke my promise.
Bedtime is another time. Some research shows that actually what you do right before bedtime has the most likelihood of staying in your brain by the time you wake up. Because while you are asleep, your brain goes through the day and it prunes off everything that it thinks that it doesn’t need. When you wake up in the morning, generally you’re refreshed and focused. So doing something right before you go to bed is very high quality.
In a family, it’s very special to have a routine of putting the children to bed that might include stories, songs, brushing your teeth, prayers—a variety of things. Research shows that children who have a specific routine that is followed faithfully are more likely to sleep well and be refreshed during the night.
The third suggestion is to learn to bundle—to do two or more things together at the same time in harmony. If you look up on the screen, this couple is doing six things at the same time. They are getting Vitamin D in the sun, they are improving their marriage as they talk and they walk, they are walking the dog, they are giving their child novel experiences to enhance their—well, the list goes on and on. But finding two or more things that you can do at the same time in harmony is beneficial.
The best present that my wife ever gave me was a tandem bicycle. Sometimes exercise isn’t fun when you do it alone, but it’s really fun when you do it with someone that you love. With a tandem bicycle, you can each get as much exercise as you want. If you really want to go for it, you can pedal as hard as you want. If you’re tired, you can put your feet up and let your partner do all the pedaling. And you’re always close enough to talk. It has just been a great thing, and we have bundled a lot of good marital time with exercise time together.
Another example of bundling might be you need to run errands at the store and you take a family member with you, so that you can have some good family time. And so forth. Elder Robert D. Hales counseled parents, in one form of bundling: “As you drive or walk children to school or their various activities, do you use the time to talk with them about their hopes and dreams and fears and joys? Do you take the time to have them take the earplugs from their MP3 players and all the other devices so that they can hear you and feel of your love?”
So one of the ways to harmonize, then, is to bundle—to do two or more things together in harmony. And I invite you to think of, what are some of the things that you might bundle together?
The fourth suggestion is to focus on the most important things. One of the reasons that we’re so stressed is that we try to do everything, and not everything is important. Elder Dallin H. Oaks said, “We have to forego some good things in order to choose others that are better or best because they develop faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and strengthen our families.”
The First Presidency also wrote: “However worthy or appropriate other demands or activities may be, they must not be permitted to displace the divinely appointed duties that only parents and families can adequately perform.”
To focus on important things, we must have boundaries with our time and our space and our energies. One of those important boundaries for us is to keep the Sabbath Day holy, to be able to set aside that day as a day that we will worship the Lord. An IBM executive that I knew, Bob Egan, who is now retired, was the only IBM executive that I ever met that was peaceful and was able to harmonize work and family life. He told me that he made a commitment that he would never work on the Sabbath Day, and so in his more than quarter century at IBM, he never did. And it was a great blessing to his family. . . . [and] he had a very successful career.
Another important thing is to spend quality time in vacations with family members. In our society today, oftentimes people bring their electronic devices with them on vacations, and it kind of ruins the effect of the vacation.
And it is very important to take care of yourself physically if you want to experience harmony—to eat the right things at the right times, to get adequate rest. In the United States today, the average person gets 6½ hours of sleep a night. Guess what the optimum amount is? Eight hours and 15 minutes. And what do you suppose happens when we get too little sleep? Do you think we’re happy and joyful and energized? No, we tend to be grouchy. So getting enough sleep is very important, as well as exercising and laughing. I’d encourage you to laugh. There’s research that shows that those who laugh get sick less frequently and get well faster when they are sick.
They did a study. The average preschool child laughs over 400 times a day. The average adult laughs about 15 times a day. So we should be more like the preschool children. So I encourage you to focus on the most important things.
The fifth suggestion is when you are out in the workplace, to choose to work flexibly. I have spent my academic career studying the benefits of flexible work arrangements for employees and also for families. And the research definitely shows that when you have flexibility in when and where you work, that a lot of good things happen.
Just one brief story. I was one of the first three telecommuters at IBM. I was working from my home in Logan, Utah, but my office was in Armonk, New York. And my manager had said that they were going to try it out. Nobody was doing it; they were going to try it out and see if it would work. I had to be sure to have a professional ambience in my home office there in Logan, Utah.
But one experience which made it into Reader’s Digest as an “All in A Day’s Work” was quite comical. I was recording my voice-mail greeting at the same time that my six-year-old daughter Emily got out of the shower, couldn’t find anything to wear, and came downstairs draped only in a towel. My wife was folding clothes in the laundry room, and when she saw Emily, said in a loud giggly female voice, “Look at you! You have no clothes on!” When I got several comments about my voice-mail greeting, I listened to it and this is what I heard:
“This is Dr. Jeff Hill with IBM Global Work Force Diversity. Look at you! You have no clothes on! I’m not available right now.”
But that being said, there are a lot more options now to work flexibly in the workplace, and as you get your own careers, look for those options.
Number six is to simply simplify your life. If we’re doing less, it’s easier to find harmony. Elder Neal A. Maxwell counseled us in general conference shortly before his death, to find something we don’t need to do and just stop doing it. He said that we’re doing too many things, that we should look at our lives and look at what is it that’s adding value to our lives. And if it isn’t, find our way to disengage.
Now I speak from experience as someone who has difficulty in saying “no” when people ask me to do things. But it requires, in order to find harmony, a lot of times we have to say “no” to less important things in order that we can say “yes” to more important things.
To simplify also, we can let go of material possessions that have a cost in resources and also have a cost in time. And as we compose a life of modest means and focused time, we will gain more harmony.
The final and most important suggestion to create harmony is to center our lives on the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. There’s a quote that I love from Elder Howard W. Hunter, who said, “I am aware that life presents many challenges. But with the help of the Lord we need not fear. If our lives and our faith are centered on Jesus Christ and His restored gospel, nothing can go permanently wrong.”
Isn’t that beautiful? If we are centered—actually, I could just give this talk with just one suggestion, which is to center your life on the Lord Jesus Christ. Because that is really the answer to all of our problems. We center our life on the Savior in our home by building spiritual patterns—the simple things like daily family prayer, daily family scripture reading, weekly family home evening, and monthly fasting. All of those things bring the Spirit of the Lord into our lives and help us to find harmony in all aspects of our lives.
I’d like to conclude by inviting you once again to see among these items, what is it that you could do to bring more harmony into your life. What can you do—one small thing—to enhance the energy that you have? What is one way that you could put time to better use and find quality time? What are some things that you could bundle together in harmony? What are some things that you need to focus on more? How can you work flexibly in your schoolwork and your occupational work and your family life and your Church work? What can you do to simplify in your life? What can you let go of that you don’t need to do? And how can you center your life more on the Savior?
I’d like to conclude with a quote from N. Eldon Tanner: “The happiest people I know are those whose lifestyles center around the home. Work is very important, and success in one’s profession or business is also essential to happiness, but remember what we say so often: ‘No other success can compensate for failure in the home.’ ” (David O. McKay).
May each of you create of your life a beautiful symphony that combines all of these important, God-given facets. And may you consecrate that life unto God, is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
“Come to Zion! Come to Zion!” October 2002 General Conference, http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2002/10/come-to-zion-come-to-zion?lang=eng&query=McMullin+on+challenge+seems+universal
Hill, E. Jeffrey. “Finding Harmony as We Struggle to Juggle,” Ensign, Feb. 2012, http://www.lds.org/ensign/print/2012/02/finding-harmony-as-we-struggle-to-juggle?lang=eng&clang=eng
“To the Mothers in Zion” (pamphlet, 1987), quoted in “Finding Harmony as We Struggle to Juggle.”
“Our duty to God: The Mission of Parents and Leaders to the Rising Generation,” April 2010 General Conference, http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2010/04/our-duty-to-god-the-mission-of-parents-and-leaders-to-the-rising-generation?lang=eng.
“Good, Better, Best,” October 2007 General Conference, http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2007/10/good-better-best?lang=eng.
First Presidency Letter: Strengthening Families, Feb. 11, 1999, http://www.lds.org/pa/display/0,17884,5154-1,00.html.
The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, ed. Clyde J. Williams (1997), 40. Quoted in “Finding Harmony as We Struggle to Juggle.”
“Happiness is Home Centered,” Tambuli, Feb. 1979, 1, http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?hideNav=1&locale=2&sourceId=252f5991d66db010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&vgnextoid=f318118dd536c010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD.