How a 10-year-old got her father to quit his $100 million a year job

Mohamed El-Erian, the former CEO of PIMCO, quit his big salary job to spend more time with his daughter. His example highlights the challenge of balancing work and family.

OK, dads, Mohamed El-Erian has thrown down the Father of the Year gauntlet.

The CEO of global investment firm Pacific Investment Management Company (PIMCO) quit his $100-million-a-year job in January to spend more time with his daughter. 

However, he admits that she shamed him into the decision.

In Worth Magazine, Mr. El Erian describes how his 10-year-old daughter gave him a hand-written list of her important events and activities he'd missed because he was at work.

Talk about a wake-up call. The list contained 22 items, from her first day at school and her first soccer match of the season to a parent-teacher meeting and a Halloween parade.

I felt awful and got defensive. I had a good excuse for each missed event. Travel, important meetings, and urgent phone call, sudden to-dos ....

But it dawned on me that I was missing an infinitely more important point.

As much as I could rationalize it – as I had rationalized it – my work-life balance had gotten way out of whack, and the imbalance was hurting my very special relationship with my daughter. I was not making nearly enough time for her.

Most dads don't have the financial nest egg to walk away from their job to spend more time with their children – as much as they'd like to. And El Erian acknowledges that he's in a privileged position.

While most parents cannot simply quit their jobs to salvage a relationship, El Erian's choice highlights a common work-life balance challenge.

Sadly, he also represents a unique perspective among male executives, according to a March 2014 Harvard Business Review survey of some 4,000 executives worldwide. Most men, the article noted, still see the work-life balance problem as a "woman's" issue. And they rationalize their decision to be primarily a provider rather than a father and husband.

Here's how one executive says he sees his divorce:  “Looking back, I would have still made a similar decision to focus on work, as I was able to provide for my family and become a leader in my area, and these things were important to me. Now I focus on my kids’ education...and spend a lot more time with them over weekends.”

Men, the article notes, seldom feel guilt over lost time with family. But women executives do, and HBR offers this example:

“When you are paid well, you can get all the [practical] help you need. What is the most difficult thing, though—what I see my women friends leave their careers for—is the real emotional guilt of not spending enough time with their children. The guilt of missing out.”

A March 2013 article in in Psychology Today argues that work and family responsibilities don't have to necessarily compete, but rather can "enrich" and improve the quality of life both at home and work.

Work-family enrichment is most likely to occur when organizations provide that family-friendly environment such as providing their workers with support and schedule control. As we’ve just seen, work and family can enrich each other. When they do, not only are the employees happier and healthier, but the organization benefits as well.  Managers who provide support to employees through such measures as accommodative work schedules, have employees who actually become more productive and are less likely to leave the organization, according to a recent study by Gettysburg College psychologist Heather Odle-Dusseau and colleagues (2012).

If one looks at a broader group of fathers, not just executives, the statistics tell a more positive story.

American fathers have nearly tripled the amount of time they spend with their children, from 2.5 hours in 1965 to 7.3 hours per week in 2011, according to a Pew Research report. Despite that increase, Dads still feel guilty. The Pew study showed that 46 percent of fathers said they spent too little time with their children, compared with 23 percent of mothers who said the same; half of dads said they spent the right amount of time.

How's El Erian managing his new work-life balance?

El Erian still works at what he describes as "a portfolio of part-time jobs." And he says his wife and he alternate waking up their daughter, giving her breakfast, and taking her to school. He says he attends more of her after school activities and he and his daughter have planned a father-daughter vacation.

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