Father of Five Talks Work Life Balance

8 years ago
This article was written by a member of the SheKnows Community. It has not been edited, vetted or reviewed by our editorial staff, and any opinions expressed herein are the writer’s own.

“I am not working to put (my kids) into every single extra curricular activity; I am working so we can be together.”


Adam Christensen @adamclyde manages social media communications for IBM based in New York/CT.  Originally from the West, he married Julie at the tail end of their college days.  Their honeymoon was the road trip to New York to begin a new life together.  Now with five children, Adam talks about work life, paternity leave and trust.

IBM has always matched technological innovation with work place innovation.  Adam talks about how it functions in his life.  A while ago, IBM removed tracking of all sick leave and vacation days, instead expecting employees to take what they need, when they need.  It’s a win-win.  The data is mixed, some studies suggesting employees who don’t track these days take less, others suggesting they take the same or more.  Either way, the company doesn’t bear the liability of having the time owed on their books.  More importantly, it focuses everyone’s attentions on the deliverables and sends a clear message of trust.

“There is no way I could still be here if I didn’t have that kind of flexibility.  I have five children!  If Julie needs to go to an appointment, I can stay home.  I never have to tell boss where I am going to be.  The expectation is simply that I am going to get my work done.   More important than policy is the cultural implications of implementing the policy; it’s assumed you’re pulling your weight.  IBM takes pride in and has a long history of trying to incorporate flex, diversity.  We are largely a knowledge base company and function with the recognition that this is important for attracting and retaining talent.  The expertise of the company is in the minds of our people.

“It requires a lot of discipline to set boundaries when you’re not being rewarded for face time.”

 “With a flexible work life culture you must have very strict performance measurement policies.  That’s what should matter, not where and when you work, but your results.  Every employee creates with their boss what they are going to develop in the coming year. There is a lot of clarity about what’s being required.  When performance and results delivery issues arise then it’s addressed.  It’s not an issue just because you’re not in the office much.

“We have teams 170 countries so there is a rich familiarity with working virtually.  I am on conference calls with people I’ll never meet face to face all the time. Culturally we are very comfortable with collaborating via technology.
“With the vacation policy, I take what I need to take.  I don’t think there’s been a year where I take more or less than I did before.  All of this requires individual employees to take control and responsibility.  It requires a lot of discipline to set boundaries when you’re not being rewarded for face time.

“The term work life integration makes me sick. I need some separation - if we don’t draw the boundaries, work will always absorb our time.”
“If I want to spend time with my family, I can do that.  I don’t have to hoard days off.   If I have to be up at 2am for a conference call in Asia, I can take a slow morning with the children.  It’s about the results, if you can deliver on your measurement, then what does it matter if you’re taking three extra days?  In practice, this always existed at IBM, the policies are simply catching up to the pragmatic reality as to how we have always worked and the culture we’ve created.
“There are certainly groups in the company like call centers and some manufacturing where flex policies are more limited, but we still do our best in those environments to provide flexible options.  The vast majority of employees are college educated and everyone has a laptop. 
“Personally, what makes it work?  My wife Julie is amazing.  We were absolutely best friends before we dated and still are.  Our marriage is built on a very solid foundation with common goals in our relationship and our children.  We had similar upbringings and a great, great friendship.   Our unity and faith gives the perspective to what we are trying to achieve together.  It’s an important layer of stability for everything we are trying to do. 
“Julie is home full time and I assume she’s working 24/7 and so it’s a pitch in situation when I am there.  I love to cook and usually do.  I learned from my Dad.  He made a very conscious decision to orient his career around his kids and his wife.  He could have made a lot more money, but he made a decision and I knew he made that decision. I have made a similar decision to always be present.  I’ll go home at 5pm to be with my kids - it’s so important - and then I’ll get back to work later.  I have made career choices to support that, to not change the dynamic of our family.  There are other things I could have done, but didn’t.

“Our youngest daughter was born in January.  I absolutely took paternity leave!  I got two weeks - you never get those two weeks back, ever.  It was a really crazy time at work.  I just offloaded everything and told them all I wasn’t checking anything.  Plus I worked from home over Christmas/New Year.  It was awesome, to be with the other kids, and to welcome that new baby.  Once I had a couple of kids, I realized how fleeting those few weeks are.  It’s stupid to work through that beautiful time.

“Treat employees like adults and recognize those incredible opportunities in their lives.  Over the life span of the employee you might lose a few weeks of work.  It’s not like people are having babies every day.
“On the institutional side, there are policies needed but you also have to create the culture to accept there is a life outside of work.  For me, I need to be conscious that my work doesn’t encroach negatively on the other parts of my life.  The term work life integration makes me sick. I need some separation - if we don’t draw the boundaries, work will always absorb our time.
“Personally, the other element is to maintain an eternal or big picture perspective - this is no small thing.  We work hard at it, setting common goals for our family.  We want our kids to be good, to be kind, to develop good characters.  Wealth doesn’t matter.  I am not working to put them into every single extra curricular activity; I am working so we can be together.”
If you are interested in Adam’s social media work for IBM, have a look here, here and here.  Adam’s wife Julie, is a gifted photographer and writer.   It’s a joy to read her stories.  Adam is obsessed (no, really) with food.  To learn about his latest finds, go here
What struck me about Adam’s experience is the conscious choice of a career that supports the kind of life he wants to create, as opposed to the other way around.  I love how he speaks about knowing his father had chosen to be with his family.  This is powerful for a child to know. 

What career choices have you made to honor the other elements of your life?  He also talks about the personal responsibility and organizational culture needed to support truly flexible work environments.  What would you do if vacation days and sick leave and hours at your desk weren’t monitored? 

Photo credits: used with permission by Julie Christensen

Chrysula WORK. LIFE. BALANCE.
Cross posted from: http://www.wlbconsultants.com

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