Things seem to be running in threes for Chris Geoghegan. He has three kids under the age of three. He faces a three-hour commute each day from his home in Surrey, B.C., to his office as a product manager for Chimp Technology Inc., an online donations platform.
So when he was struggling with stress in late June and happened upon The Globe and Mail's Balance scorecard, he effectively answered in triplicate when asked to list the three key factors in work and life having a negative impact on his work-life balance:
Commute! Commute! Commute! "Otherwise I think I have a great work-life balance because my employer really values it," he noted.
He has made improvements since then, in part helped by thinking things through while filling out The Globe's questionnaire, which is being presented again for others facing similar work-life tensions.
He knew he had to take greater advantage of the commuting time, because when he comes home, he has to immediately immerse himself in child care, assisting his wife who has been dealing with the youngsters all day. That doesn't leave much time for himself or to supplement what got done at the office.
He takes the bus and Skytrain, and some days, can do some reading or answer e-mails while in transit. But other days, not much can be accomplished because the vehicles are packed, he is standing, and it's hot and stuffy.
The solution he came up with was to join with a colleague and start their own bus club to serve commuters like him. Yes, it was more work, but with a good cause, he felt. They lined up a bus supplied by a company, with a profit-sharing arrangement, and commuters who were willing to sign on for the trip from Langley to downtown Vancouver. The buses were state of the art, with lots of leg room, reclining chairs, and WiFi. "The commute was amazing," he said. "The people who used it loved it."
The quality of his commuting improved – it didn't even feel like commuting – and he got more work done, relieving stress. But the venture didn't fly because it was hard to find sufficient uptake with only one bus a day, leaving at 8:30 a.m. and returning at 4:30 p.m. After attracting only 10 to 15 passengers daily, the bus company's patience ran out and the experiment ended.
It did give him some thoughts on the commuting crisis in our larger cities. A target market exists for such efforts from people who will pay more for a better-quality commute and also those who can see a significant financial saving by putting away their cars. But it just didn't work out for him and his partner – although, ironically, the respite and the effort seemed to have relaxed him a bit more about his own situation.
"If you keep complaining about the commute, it just adds to the stress. We at least tried to improve the situation," he said. His perspective has changed, he sees the commute as less of a waste, and keeps trying to get work done. "You need to keep a positive perspective."
He could, of course, find a job closer to home. But he doesn't want to do that. He likes his employer and his job.
The other big change has been gaining permission to work at home one day a week. That saves three hours – and makes for a much more comfortable day. Usually he leaves home at 7 a.m. and is back at 6:30 p.m. On his telecommute day, he can get up at 7:30 a.m., start work relatively quickly, and be finished at about 4:30 p.m., already home, and much more refreshed.
It's a modest tweak, just one day a week, but welcome and, along with the different perspective on the commute, has improved his work-life balance.
If you're struggling, as he was in June, you may want to try the questionnaire. Step-by-step, it leads you through the issues of stress and work-life balance, guiding you to consider the factors that are causing difficulty and how you might rebalance.
What better time than the turn of the year to explore rebalancing?
Our questionnaire is below. Take a moment to fill it out and see what is causing you the most stress.
Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter