Family outweighs career for today's new breed of employee

David Eakins and his wife, Cathy, had all the trappings of success: a 44-foot pool, a 35-foot sailboat, and a 200-year-old country home. But they also had a daily hour-and-45-minute commute each way from Yardley, Pa., to New York City.

''We loved Yardley, but we never had a chance to feel a part of a community, '' says Mr. Eakins, a former investment manager for a New York firm. Cathy Eakins worked as a division manager of a company in the pacemaker industry. ''We were so busy going back and forth we never felt we had set down roots.''

The Eakinses, who are sailors, had been contemplating a move to Cape Cod, Mass., when the company Mr. Eakins worked for stepped up its demands. ''We felt we owed it to ourselves to live where we wanted to live,'' he says. ''The company made the decision easy by setting unrealistic sales quotas.''

Increasingly, quality of life and family concerns are looming large in career decisions. A 1981 survey of 815 career couples by Catalyst, a nonprofit women's career organization, concluded: ''Changes in social values, especially among younger workers, call into question previous emphasis on constant upward career movement. Today's new breed of employee is giving more weight to family and personal considerations along with financial and career growth opportunities.''

Less than a year ago, the Eakinses left their jobs in New York and bought a historic inn in Chatham on Cape Cod.

''I decided to forgo titles and become a genuine innkeeper. We've never met so many nice people,'' says Mr. Eakins, who serves on the Chatham Chamber of Commerce - a position he says is ''important to me because it's a chance to become involved in the community.''

The Catalyst survey found that although couples were satisfied with their careers and demanded high career performance of themselves, they rated family even higher than career in importance.

Single parents, too, are tailoring career decisions to family needs. Elizabeth Browning of Cambridge, Mass., a single working mother, postponed a career change until the two youngest of her four children had reached natural transitions in their schooling - one graduated from high school and the other from junior high. She waited nine months after completing a fund-raising project for Dartmouth College before making the move to ''something bigger and more exciting.'' She now does marketing for an interior design firm in Boston.

''I felt it was extremely important to wait,'' she says. ''It was a conscious choice on my part.''

Fathers, especially those who want to play a more active part in raising their children, are making similar choices.

''The assumption is, women will usually sacrifice their career for the family , and men are the ambitious ones who put career above all else,'' says Arlene Johnson, manager of developing programs of the Career and Family Center at Catalyst. ''Recent studies are challenging this - they are finding both men and women are concerned about career and family.''

As more women move into higher salary levels, relocation offers are forcing two-career couples who do not want a commuter marriage to examine their priorities and decide which career will take temporary precedence. Employees with families must weigh the net financial advantage of relocating against uprooting children and getting established in a new community.

''From a corporate point of view, the financial package is still regarded as the primary inducement to relocate. However, from the employee point of view, the family adjustment is a very important consideration, if not the most important consideration in relocation,'' says Ms. Johnson, citing a 1982 Catalyst study, ''Human Factors in Relocation.''

A year and a half ago, Joe Valenzuela and his family left Yakima, Wash., when he was hired as fire chief in Gresham, Ore. Mr. Valenzuela thrived in his new position, but members of his family had a hard time adjusting to the new community. This October, Mr. Valenzuela submitted his resignation so his family could return to friends and relatives in Yakima.

Part of the difficulty was simply making the change from Yakima's dry climate to Gresham's rainy weather. ''Coast people go out in the rain, but in Yakima if it rains people stay inside,'' Mr. Valenzuela explains. His wife, Rosalie, who was active in community organizations in Yakima, tended to stay indoors in Gresham and didn't ''build the kind of trusting relationships you need as a support system.''

Although his 13-year-old daughter adjusted well to the new town, he says, his 14-year-old son ''didn't make friends as he normally did. He and his mother were determining factors in our return.''

For Mr. Valenzuela, moving back meant stepping down from fire chief to a captain's position.

''I had a positive experience in Gresham and I didn't want to leave,'' he says. Although the decision to return to Yakima was difficult, he reflects, his family was more important to him than his job.

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