Working Mom Face Time.

by Susan Wenner Jackson

 

Am I investing enough in "social capital" at the office? I'm a social person by nature. From a very young age, I've enjoyed chatting, yukking it up, and dishing dirt with my fellow human beings. Especially with the folks at my office—an ad agency where smart, creative, and, most importantly, funny people seem to flock in droves.

 


But when I became a working mom two years ago, I noticed that I suddenly had no time for "miscellaneous." Every minute of my day was consumed with purpose. In the morning, I had to haul ass to get myself and my daughter out the door. During the workday, I no longer enjoyed the "luxury" of working as late (and leisurely) as I needed to in order to hit my "end-of-day" deadlines. Evenings, I tried to squeeze as much affection and family time as I could into two hours—before my daughter went to sleep. "Night-night" for Cassie meant "second shift" for Mommy.

 

At the office, I quickly learned I had to be much stricter with my schedule. That meant catching up on my work emails instead of going out to lunch with my cube-mates, or a quick wave on the way back from the coffee machine rather than a five-minute hallway chat. Happy hour? Ha! Who has time for that? Sure, I missed some of the office camaraderie and shenanigans, but I couldn't dwell on it. No time. Must get stuff done.
I went along on my merry, harried way for months, until the president of my company called me out on the carpet for my antisocial attitude. OK, he wasn’t quite that harsh. He simply pointed out how a comment I had made (on one of my blogs, Working Moms Against Guilt, which he reads regularly) indicated that I consider myself too busy to socialize with my colleagues. Well … yeah, I guess sometimes I do, I confessed.

 

Being an extremely well-prepared and organized company president, he immediately handed me a copy of a Harvard Business Review article (a publication he also reads regularly). Perhaps you’ve seen it: “Women and the Labyrinth of Leadership”? One part of the article discusses how women put themselves at a disadvantage when they sacrifice office socializing for their work/family balancing act. The author dubs this “underinvestment in social capital.”

 

Up until this point, sitting across from my agency’s fearless leader, I had not given much thought to the fact that my social-butterfly ways could actually help me succeed in my career. I certainly hadn’t realized that overriding my personality to be more “efficient” could hinder my professional growth—maybe even prevent a future promotion or other opportunities. But here I was, being gently prodded by a very successful mentor to be myself! Chat it up. Invest in social capital. What a concept.

 

Since that little discussion a few weeks ago, I’ve started to put a little more time into my hallway chats. I even made it to a happy hour last Friday! It feels good to get to know some of my newer coworkers, and reconnect with those I haven’t talked to in a while. I like being the old social me, and surprisingly, it hasn’t forced me to work longer hours or spend much less time with the fam. Social capital at the office is definitely a worthwhile investment.

Happy2Bme
03.26.08

I always find it amazing how different a man's view is from a woman's on "social capital".

Not so long ago, when only the man was expected to work outside the home, and the women were there to do everything else, social capital was known as "climbing the ladder of success or paying your dues". Those dinner meetings that the wife prepared for the boss or client in town were examples of how well the "man" managed his life. The number of deals made on the golf course made it manditory for boys to pick up clubs as soon as the baseball bats were put away. The man knew the value of his "social capital" early on. And the wife's role was to make sure it happened.

Today's working women are very committed to having it all just like the men. They, more so than some men, have learned how to juggle their spouse's needs, the expected great home life, the well rounded child(ren), the role of attentive daughter and/or daughter-in-law, the dedicated friend, the perpetial shopper, the dedicated co-worker, with little to no help from a "how-to" manual. What men were "raised" to do is a new frontier for women.

I am constantly amazed by the women I work with. By the commitment to excellence I see in so many aspects of their lives. Some are great at practicing, at work, what they preach to kids - when you fall down, pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and try again - while others are like children themselves and trying to find the boundries of this new world. What a remarkable, resiliant group.

At the same time, I enjoy being surprised by the roles many of the men I work with try to fill with their families and friends. Men today are more open to take on new responsibilities than before on the homefront due to the wife working outside the home whether from their financial obligations or simply the wife's desire to work outside the home. Good for them! To them, however, the social capital at work is still second nature. What people forget is that the woman is still trying to understand the concept. I think its time that men welcome and embrace the woman's role in the office and show them the ropes just as they would "Junior" who is slowly trying to follow in his father's footprints. Not many women in today's world have their mother's footprints to follow here.

I believe if we work together we can have it all. I know too many people - men as well as women - who know their limits on the job and keep to them, adore their spouse and actively pursue improving the relationship, make time for their children's interest and encourage their youthful curiosity, and have an amazing resource of friends. To me that's what its all about. That's the reward of your social capital investment.

My advice to women who are struggling through this new phase of their life is to celebrate the accomplishments you make into that "capital", no matter how small, and realize that it will continue to get better - when its done at your pace, not at someone else's pre-determined pace.

woffingtonja
03.26.08

Said pres here, wanted to continue the discussion a little and offer some additional clarity. Just sharing what I'm grappling with too!

1) Social capital isn't about moms only. As a proud father of 2, I face similar constraints as I split (not quite 50/50 but 40/60) all duties with my wife, a marketing exec at a fortune 100 company. My comment to Susan was more sharing a realization of something I've learned.

2) And social capital isn't just for parents. People with involved social lives, hobbies outside of work--in other words, good balance - face the same challenge. I am involved in the arts scene in my city as an actor, director, sit on boards, etc. I know that when I direct, a 30+hr per week endeavor! (plug for current show here), I 'use' my social capital vs invest in it. Balance is a great thing but there are costs/consequences to it.

3) Social capital is NOT "facetime." Social capital is the idea that relationships that you build (in any facet of your life) are like a bank account. You have to keep making deposits so you can make withdrawls when you need it. This can be during office hours, during scheduled meetings, etc. I find that, without thought/focus on this, it becomes very easy to cut 'relationship building' chatter, etc. in favor of efficiency (hell, it's important but not urgent). I've seen this with my friendships - if I'm so busy that I don't call my best friend for a month, it's harder to maintain the same level of closeness. At our company, we don't value facetime at all - we evaluate people on RESULTS. The challenge is that, in a people business like advertising, you need other people to deliver results. If people are willing to help you, you get better results. If they aren't, you won't.

4) Finally, social capital doesn't always mean focus on work. If you think about it like a bank account, you realize that you have to make choices. Sometimes, I put money into my account via happy hours, just stopping by people's desk to see how their sick son is, etc. And sometimes I make withdrawls by prioritizing my daughter's dance concert over my afternoon meeting. And in those instances, I'm making deposits in a different social capital account that I'm even more proud of!

Final Thought: This sounds a lot colder and calculated than it really is. But when I took a minute to step back, I realized that my accounts were out of balance....then I can make the deposits where they are most needed.

debbiestickel
03.26.08

Thankfully, I work in an environment of mostly women, who are also moms. We work hard when we're here and then we bolt in the evening to see our families. No pressure to spend extra time here. We're valued based on the work we get done, not how social we are.

justice fergie
03.21.08

i know this is very true at the law firm. face time (which i hated) is big in those parts. now that i'm out of the private sector, i enjoy those social events with my co-workers much more b/c they aren't forced. plus, many folks in my office have families so they are conscious of the timing etc. we have "happy hour" right here in our lounge so that everyone can make it for at least a few minutes. i think the industry/work atmosphere makes a big difference when it comes to the importance and feasibility of face time.

newsammy
03.20.08

Wow, this is so true in my life!! I am always given a hard time around the office because I skip out on happy hour, etc. Half of these people sit around and chit chat all day and then stay late and work. Why do that when I can get it all my work done and get home to spend the precious 1-2 hours a night I have with my kids before they go to bed? I actually informed my husband that I will be going to happy hour this Friday, but had to schedule it a week in advance. Honestly, the time with my kids is so limited that I would rather be home with them. It is really tough.

selfmademom
03.19.08

If you can swing it, I totally agree re: social capital. It'd be nice too, if companies could schedule the social outings during parent friendly times, sometimes, though.

Amy3
03.18.08

Sounds like you have a really great boss, something I'm also blessed with. It does feel like you have to schedule tighter after kids and I think parents actually do have to work this way a lot. But it's nice to know you are in a place that values the creative energy that comes from some socializing!