In a telling moment a few years go an attractive young women -- an artist, mother, and "perfect corporate wife" to her executive vice-president husband -- showed me a statistic in a family magazine. According to an extensive survey of how (male) executives spent their waking hours, the lion's share of their time was invested in corporate work; a much smaller share was spent on social activities (often work-oriented); and between ordinary 10-to 12-hour working days and longer business trips away from home, they averaged just seven minutes per day with their children.
The young wife had a slightly biter edge to her voice when she added, "Seven whole minutes. The experts could write a whole book about that one statistic."
Now, two experts have written a book that deals with this unfortunate fact of life, and they've managed to avoid an accusatory tone toward anyone. Dr. Barrie S. Greiff of the Harvard Business School and Dr. Preston K. Munter, director of the Harvard Law School Health Services, have written a knowledgeable, sympathetic, and realistic analysis of the problems modern executive families (and individuals) face.
The danger zones they point out and the guidelines they recommend can apply not only to executive families, but to most couples with demanding and complicated lives, whtever their occupation.
Should a husband automatically uproot his family every time he gets a better job offer or prootion involving transfer to a new city? What about his wife's career, or community ties; his children's well-being? And what about the young dual-career couple just start! ing off; where do they go if they both get "irresistible" job offers in different cities? Coping with these challenges takes mutual sensitivity, commitment, and understanding, the authors point out.
For nearly 10 years Dr. Greiff has taught a popular course at Harvard Business School, "The Executive Family Seminar," designed to help young professionals deal better with the relationships of individuals, families, nd corporations. Both Dr. Greiff and Dr. Munter have served as lecturers and consultants to organizations and educators in this area. Here they draw on their research and experience to comment on a number of pitfalls and opportunities for mutual growth.
The authors present scenarios of executives just starting out, pinpointing problems single men face, the special pressures on women executives, and the difficulties couples face while trying to juggle two careers and family life. They discuss the stress on families caused by executive travel, relocation, firings and promotions, retirement, and corporate demands on time and thought that can stretch marriages to the breaking point.
The reader might feel, at times, as if some points are glossed over (couples are told to "enjoy each other's successes" -- and to be "supportive when one or the other fails"), and one wishes for a bit more advice on how to cope with chronis resistance, or unconscious "double messages" from either partner. But a book like this can encompass only so much territory: Greiff and Munter have done an admirable job of identifying the most sensitive questions and suggesting healthy ways of dealing with them.
Not that everyone gets everything he thinks he wants; the title of the book is a firm reminder of the choices to be made. A tradeoff (according to the American Heritage Dictionary) is "an exchange of one thing in return for another; especially, a giving up of something desirable -- for another regarded as more desirable." But with communication, and commitment, flexibility and mutual planning, the authors suggest, couples can emerge from various crises, to make it over the longer haul with stronger relationships and more mutually fulfilled lives. That's not a bad overall "career goal" in itself.