Friday, January 28, 2011

a small tip for creating family-friendly work environments

I mentioned in a previous post that my current institution has a family-friendly atmosphere. I'd say that's true 95% of the time. The one big exception is our tendency to schedule evening meetings. This week, I had meetings 6-9pm on Tuesday, 7-9pm on Wednesday, and 5:30-7pm on Thursday.

Sometimes it's impossible to avoid evening meetings, and when everyone is teaching 12 hours a week, it can be challenging for committees to meet during the day. But when everyone is available for an 8am meeting, I hate that I'm forced to be the nasty, uncooperative person who refuses to let my colleagues sleep in, all because I have small kids at home.

It's an awkward situation, particularly because the other committee members don't want to admit that the only reason they won't meet at 8am is because they don't want to get up that early. After all, I'm not asking for some kind of unreasonable concession, like a week-end meeting, or making everyone come to my house. I'm asking that they schedule a meeting for regular work hours, rather than at night. They can't say "I'm too lazy to get out of bed before 7:30," so instead they come up with a variety of strange excuses. One committee member told me he didn't want to get up at 5:30am. Since he lives less than 15 minutes from campus, I was surprised, and asked why he would need to get up at 5:30 for an 8 meeting. He hemmed and hawed and said he had to pack up all his materials, do the last prep for class, etc., etc. Unless I want to make things even more awkward, I can't just say "so pack your materials the night before!" (In his defense, he's extremely supportive of me, and of family-friendly policies in general, and he was going to be traveling that day.)

So here's my tip for colleagues who want to create a family-friendly work environment: try to avoid evening meetings. They may not seem like much to you, but to the parents of young kids, they're a major frustration. Remember those meetings last week? First, my husband had to take care of the kids, which is difficult since Pumpkin screams all evening if he's not in my arms nursing. Dr. Mr. Palimpsest had a lot of work to do those evenings, too, so it was tough on his schedule. Second, I missed out on the primary time I get to spend with my kids. On daycare days, I only see Bunny between 7-8am and 5-7pm. I missed some or all of that evening time for three nights in a row. Third, my house was completely trashed after three days of me not cleaning in the evening. Seriously, there wasn't a clean dish in the house, the kitchen counters were covered in food bits, the floor had three days worth of highchair mess. It was disgusting. (It's not that Dr. Mr. Palimpsest won't clean, but it's harder for him to do so when Pumpkin is screaming. See above.)

So, I repeat the tip: try to avoid evening meetings. I know it's a pain to get up, but remember that you're weighing your feelings of "gee-it's-a-pain-to-get-out-of-bed-and-be-at-work-by-the-normal-beginning-of-the-business-day", against a parent's feelings of "this-goddamn-evening-meeting-is-costing-me-precious-time-with-my-kids-and-putting-strain-on-my-marriage-or-costing-me-babysitting-money-and-is-making-it-impossible-for-me-and-my-children-to-follow-our-normal-lives-and-routine". Parents of young children are often probationary faculty, and concerned about gaining a reputation as bad colleagues. They may not argue against evening meetings, even when they're a significant burden. Please, my esteemed colleagues, be sensitive to the needs of young families when it comes to demanding evening service.


  1. I have some similar worries about potentially teaching evening classes; they're in fairly high demand at some institutions, and for good reasons. Presumably if it's a regularly scheduled event like a class I could plan to take those hours off in the afternoon that day instead and get my "kid time" in, but it won't make the already harrowing bedtime routine any easier on my spouse. Any advice on dealing with this?

  2. I wish I had some good advice! The bedtime routine around here is enough to make saints cry, and that's one of the major reasons I hate evening commitments. Luckily, Bunny is in bed by 7, and if we have to, we can put her to bed a little earlier. So, I can at least help with the bedtime routine if the evening commitment is after 7. Also, she's usually very good if we explain to her that "this one night, you have to be super good, because Mommy has to go to work." Pumpkin, on the other hand...