The Way We Work
November 7, 2012 by Amy Sept

Summer vacations were something Angela Irizarry treasured growing up, a gift she was concerned she wouldn’t be able to give her son. Working for a call center when he was a baby allowed Angela to stay at home with him, but when the recession led to tight times for both her and her fiancé, she took a higher-paying position as an assistant property manager at a student housing community.

“I missed spending time with my son,” she admitted. “It ate at me, every summer, that he didn’t get a summer vacation, because that was something I looked forward to every year growing up.”

Deciding to leave her job earlier this year to work online, doing social media marketing, has turned that around. “I stepped out of my comfort zone to do what I love,” Angela said, noting that her decision has given her much more time to spend with her family. “I’ve never been happier. I’ve never been less stressed. It’s very liberating.”

High levels of work-family stress are causing many people to look for more flexible solutions—and often, that solution is the life of an independent worker. A recent survey by professional staffing company Mom Corps found that 52 percent of employees would start their own business in order to get the flexibility they’re looking for.

“As professionals come to terms with the idea of flexibility, they are gaining confidence in seeking their preferred work environment and shaping their careers accordingly,” said Allison O’Kelly, founder and CEO of Mom Corps.

The Sandwich Generation: Looking For Balance

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, more than 87 percent of American families have at least one working parent.

“It’s impossible to parent-shift,” observed C. C. Chapman, founder of Digital Dads, in The Working Parent’s Guide to Working from Home (or Anywhere Else). “While the right tools make it easy to work on your terms, it’s tough to do the same with parenting.”

For people in what is known as “the sandwich generation,” flextime isn’t just about being available for their kids. According to a survey by the Families and Work Institute, one in five working adults is also currently caring for an older relative—and slightly less than half of those adults also have at least one child under the age of 18.

“There really aren’t any easy solutions to this work/family conflict,” Chuck Ross wrote in a recent blog post for the AARP.

“Yes, enlightened employers who understand that our need to leave early to sit in on Dad’s next kidney appointment is just as valid as a coworker’s desire to attend a son’s soccer game would be great,” he noted. “In the short term, though, it’s up to each of us to truly understand the limits of what we can and can’t do, and not beat ourselves up when we fall short of our own or someone else’s idea of ideal.”

Scheduling Work Around Family

Before she left her job, Angela juggled both her property management job and her freelancing work. When she finally made the leap, the shift was practically seamless. “There was no downtime at all,” she said. “I started applying to jobs and I started getting them…making just as much as I was when I was doing the 9-to-5, commuting 40 minutes each way.”

Now, Angela says she can put money away into savings and has the freedom to flex her schedule around her family. “[My fiancé] does maintenance in property management, and his busy season is in the winter–shoveling or salting the walkways—whereas mine [as an assistant property manager] was in the summer,” she explained.

“The window of opportunity for us to do anything was very, very small. We would have to plan everything so far in advance. [Freelancing] gives me the freedom to do more things with my family, and not worry about things like: Is someone going to get fired if we take this vacation?”

Resources for Flexibility Seekers

  • To coincide with the recent 2012 Workflex Conference, the Families and Work Institute recently launched The Workflex Employee Toolkit. This resource provides advice for employees on how to ask for a more flexible schedule, and information about how you can make it work for you.
  • Targeted to moms and dads, Chapman’s free ebook takes an honest look at balancing commitments like deadlines and business travel with family time and good communication.

Has flexible work helped you create better work-family balance? Share your stories and advice in the comments section below.

Amy Sept

Managing Editor

As the Managing Editor of the oDesk blog, Amy Sept works with regular and guest writers to share information that helps freelancers and businesses navigate the future of work. A writer and social media pro, she owns Nimbyist Communications and often works remotely with non-profits, tech companies and small business owners.