When life in the fast lane slows down

July 05, 1995|By Judith H. Dobrzynski

Imagine an American lifestyle where people worked fewer hours and spent more time en famille. Strivers would revamp their work habits, regularly leaving a redrafting of business proposals until the next morning, cutting off meetings at 5 o'clock and foregoing evening phone calls to demanding clients.

Rush-hour traffic would probably get worse, and Little League games, soccer matches and Indian Princess meetings would be more crowded. Maybe movie studios would produce more family fare.

It could happen, if the thesis advanced by a new study gains currency. In their research, Peter Capelli, a management professor at the Wharton School; Jill Constantine, an assistant professor of economics at Williams College, and Clint Chadwick, a Ph.D. candidate at Wharton, set out to determine whether people pay a price in workplace success for stressing family interests.

Unlike other studies on the subject, however, they looked at data from the same people at two points in time. They started with responses given by high school seniors across the nation in 1972 to a series of "life interest" questions and compared them with the respondents' earnings in 1986.

They found that men who had placed high importance on both finding the right spouse and having a good family life earned more than others, after controlling for educational differences, tenure with current employer and total job experience. For women, the same correlation existed, but it was weaker.

At the same time, the researchers found that placing importance on success in work, having money and finding steady work had no effect on earnings.

But if Americans buy this thesis and reorder their lives, what would happen to American productivity? It would not suffer in the least, Mr. Capelli said. He believes that time invested in family life makes workers more productive, not less, and enhances corporate performance.

On the other hand, having a poor family life makes greater demands on an employee's time, with "enormous" negative consequences in the workplace, Mr. Capelli said.

Building a good family life is particularly important early in careers. "That's where the serious mistakes, like bad marriages, get made," he explained.

Mr. Capelli, who is co-director of Wharton's Center for Human Resources, said, "The alternative to a good family life is not no family life," "it's a bad family life."

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