Care.com

Patrick Ball @PatrickBall

recovering journalist. content and strategy at Care.com. writing about policies, problems and benefits affecting working families.

Bravo for Google's CFO, But Don't We All Want Work-Life Balance?

Google's CFO is leaving his big job to put family first, but work-life balance isn't so easy for the rest of us.

Here we go again.

Another exec leaving his big job to spend more time with his family. Another round of praise after the thoughtful note he published online gets picked up and shared.

Before we go any further, let's make one thing crystal clear: Patrick Pichette’s plan to retire from his position as Google’s CFO is another win for work-life balance. This is, absolutely, another great example of a man stepping back from his career to put his family first.

His humorous quip about spending so little time with his wife of 25 years that his kids aren’t sure how their marriage will survive his retirement is something to which many professionals – both men and women – can relate. The rest of his story, not so much.

And there’s the rub.

For most working families struggling with work-life balance, their stories are very different than the stories of Pichette, or Jon Stewart, or Max Schireson or any of the other successful men who’ve publicly put family first over the past year.  

So who speaks for them?

Who speaks for the dual-income households struggling to make ends meet? Who speaks for the young couples who can’t afford a vacation, let alone extending their international travel? Who speaks for the new moms putting careers on hold before they have the chance to take off because child care is so expensive that it doesn’t pay to work?

We do. We all have to. These working families are the lifeblood of our economy.

The problem is, most of our workplaces haven’t kept pace with the realities of our modern workforce – or our modern families. So it’s a struggle for many families, especially those with child care or senior care responsibilities, to balance work and life.

The days of dad working 9 to 5 while mom stays home with the kids are a distant memory. In two-thirds of American families, all parents work. Women make up almost 50 percent of the workforce and contribute more to family income than ever before.

Advances in technology had extended the workday, not decreased it. Employees are constantly connected, responding to emails at all hours of the night and checking in from vacation. Hourly employees and those working multiple part-time jobs lack access to employer-provided benefits and paid time off options.

We’ve all lost our work-life balance.

“In the end, life is wonderful, but nonetheless a series of trade offs, especially between business/professional endeavors and family/community,” Pichette wrote on his Google+ page. “And thankfully, I feel I’m at a point in my life where I no longer have to have to make such tough choices anymore.” 

While the fortunate few, like Pichette, Stewart and Schireson, have been able to retire or step back to spend more time with their families, the reality is that nearly half of working parents have had to turn down job offers because they wouldn’t have worked for their families.

Working moms are dropping out of the workforce, senior caregivers are scaling back hours and American businesses are losing tens of billions annually in lost productivity costs due to care-related issues.

That’s bad for everyone. When working families withdraw from the workforce or pass up promotions, they risk losing out on future job opportunities and limiting their lifetime earning – and spending – potential. And their employers, in turn, lose talent and institutional knowledge, and incur costly turnover expenses.

We’ve said this before, but it’s on us – all of us: individuals, families, business leaders and lawmakers – to give voice to the struggles of our working families and to find solutions to the systemic problems that threaten to stifle America’s economic growth.

It’s on us to strengthen our working families rather than forcing them to make these tough choices. And it’s in all of our best interest to do so.

Because, as Patrick Pichette would surely agree, nobody should have to wait until retirement to enjoy quality time with their family.