...why we work!

The past couple of weekends have been among the least productive of the year. I could not finish reviewing the papers I expected to or begin to outline the grant proposals I have to submit if I want to get funds for summer research. I could not even get this column started by the 20th of the month, so that I could send it to Michael Beachum, at NSHMBA's headquarters, for its publication in this issue of the bottom line!

The 'problem' (not really, as you will soon find out) was that my oldest son decided about a year ago that he wanted to participate in a Spelling Bee contest, after witnessing last year's local event and watching similar tournaments on TV and movies. About five months ago, he received this year's study guide and memorized it in its entirety. He won the regional tournament in February -beating about 15 nearby school champions in the process--, and last Saturday he won 5th place, out of 108 participants in the Western Pennsylvania contest.

Of course, trying to be the productive professional that I consider myself, I took my laptop and several papers to the state-level event but did not even open the darn briefcase. I was more nervous than my son was and, by the end of the event, I could not even begin to describe how proud I was to see this 11-year old showcasing his knowledge before dozens of parents, relatives and all other top spellers from our side of the state. Though he did not win the first place –which would have implied an expenses-paid trip to Washington, DC to represent the Pittsburgh area at the National level—I was incredibly pleased to see that he was the top-placed 6th grader, as all the other top-five winners were in the 7th or 8th grade.

The following weekend I did not even bother to carry laptop or papers with me. My older daughter participated for the second time in our local Junior Music Festival in three events, and obtained top grades on each of her tests! Again, I spent a significant portion of the weekend talking to other nervous parents who were hoping that their kids would not notice how thrilled, jumpy, yet full of pride we were to see them reaching such impressive milestones in their intellectual growth. Needless to say, I have started worrying about my productivity as my younger kids reach the ages that these older siblings currently have! Well, not really; as long as they keep showing an honest effort to work hard and do their best during these benchmarking events, I think that the entire family will be finding the ways to coordinate and ensure that they have these opportunities to shine and grow.

And that is ultimately the thought that came to my mind when I was getting ready to write this month’s column. A topic that I consider quite interesting as a management researcher is the interactions between family and work roles, often portrayed in the literature as an interface that is prone to conflict. Quite often, my colleagues write in journal articles about the spillover effects between work and family, and the few publications that include Hispanic samples emphasize the high priority that family has for Latinos. We certainly have no monopoly on placing family above any other worldly endeavors, but some of those publications –including popular media outlets—seem to suggest that placing family as the top priority in our lives may have a detrimental effect on career advancement and related outcomes.

Of course, there are many exemplars who challenge this notion. The image of many distinguished NSHMBA members who, in addition to having top positions in their companies, dedicate incredibly long hours of volunteerism to NSHMBA and to other endeavors comes to my mind, often attending the Hispanic Executive Summit or the National Conference and Job Expo along with their spouses and children (you know who they are)! And we don’t have to work too hard to find top managers and other high-level individuals who have sometimes large families (four or more children) and successful marriages along with extremely successful professional careers.

Of course, I don’t mean to suggest that the balancing act is easy to execute, and my own research suggests that our female counterparts frequently have an even more challenging set of expectations to manage because of custom, tradition, and other strong societal forces. But meeting the business leaders –male or female—who are able to play this game successfully is not just satisfactory but very inspiring!

So, this month I decided to take a break from writing about purely-business issues, about the fact that the economy is going down the tubes and about how reminiscent of Latin America’s lost decade the recent handling of GM’s problems by our new micro-managing national administration is. I decided to focus on one of the ultimate reasons why I –and I know that I am not alone—spend some weekends and nights at the office, making sure that my organization and its stakeholders are well-served and their expectations exceeded. Even if you currently have no children (after all, many of our fellow NSHMBA members are in the earliest stages of their family formation process) I know that you can relate: the ultimate reason why we work is NOT so much our career progression or individual wealth. A more essential motivation for many of us is to make it possible for those around us –particularly those that carry the same last name—to also grow and transcend. Right?

What do you think? Please post or send me your thoughts and comments on this blog: http://drolivaslujan.blogspot.com/ or via email to: drolivaslujan@gmail.com. I look forward to hearing –or reading—from you!

¡Hasta la próxima!