Work and Family: Essays from the Work and Family Column of the Wall Street Journal


On Wednesdays, more than 1.8 million Wall Street Journal readers can turn to Sue Shellenbarger's "Work & Family" column for advice, guidance, and insight into the most important social issue of our day: balancing career and personal life. Since creating the column in 1991, Shellenbarger has brought her unique wit and wisdom to the problems successful people encounter in managing child care, elder care, burnout, job sharing, marital stress, coping with emergencies, and corporate and personal trade-offs. Now ...

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On Wednesdays, more than 1.8 million Wall Street Journal readers can turn to Sue Shellenbarger's "Work & Family" column for advice, guidance, and insight into the most important social issue of our day: balancing career and personal life. Since creating the column in 1991, Shellenbarger has brought her unique wit and wisdom to the problems successful people encounter in managing child care, elder care, burnout, job sharing, marital stress, coping with emergencies, and corporate and personal trade-offs. Now Shellenbarger has collected the very best of her "Work & Family" essays in a single volume for all her readers.

Clearly organized by theme, Work & Family covers every aspect of the subject from starting a family in the midst of a flourishing career to dealing with workplace issues like job sharing, telecommuting, and family-unfriendly bosses. Filled with on-target advice while offering solid, unwavering support, Work & Family speaks directly to the needs of smart, ambitious, hardworking people. Having a life while succeeding at a demanding job has never been tougher: here is one book that helps us all meet and master the challenges of our complicated lives.

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Editorial Reviews

Daniel Goleman
Crucial for anyone who works and wants to have a life, too...Illuminating and thoughtful.
Wall Street Journal
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"Nobody on his deathbed ever said, `I wish I'd spent more time at the office.'" Shellenbarger, who has been writing the "Work and Family" column for the Wall Street Journal since 1991, uses this popular quote from Peter Lynch, a former fund manager, to dramatize her concern about the difficulties of balancing work and family life. The theme of how to satisfy competing demands runs through all these thoughtful essays. Working parents will nod with recognition at Shellenbarger's anecdotes, which are drawn both from her own experience as a working mother and from letters she has received from her readers. She provides descriptions of a variety of innovations with which both employers and employees have been experimenting in hopes of easing this problem: e.g., Seattle software maker WRQ's employee-friendly office buildings include breast-feeding rooms for mothers who bring their children to work. Shellenbarger also advises readers to advocate for telecommuting and other family-friendly work arrangements. Of particular interest is the section on how to deal with the demands of caring for aging and ill parents and still hold down a job, an issue that will take on even more importance as the aging population grows. Among the ideas Shellenbarger floats is a proposal that employers relocate the elderly parents of employees to the area where their children live. Like most collections of newspaper columns, this one is notable more for breadth than for depth. These short, sometimes pointed pieces only begin to address the complexities of working families in the postindustrial economy.
Kirkus Reviews
Practical advice for managers and parents desperately trying to figure out the steps of the work-family dance. Since 1991, Shellenbarger has been writing a column for the Wall Street Journal on the intricacies of balancing work demands with family needs. A full-time telecommuter after resigning as the Journal's Chicago bureau chief with the birth of her second child, Shellenbarger knows firsthand of what she speaks. She compiles 100 of her columns, divided neatly into overarching categories that discuss everything from how to divide up housekeeping and parenting duties to how to get your boss to see the light. Although the essays seem a tad redundant at times, they are useful, especially since they rely on a satisfying mix of experts, bosses, and employees. Of additional appeal is their length—at about two-and-one-half pages apiece, they're easily digested in the few post-dinner minutes of private time afforded most working parents. Their length also makes them ideal for copying and placement in the mailboxes of unenlightened bosses. (Author tour)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345422262
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/30/1999
  • Pages: 333
  • Product dimensions: 6.38 (w) x 9.52 (h) x 1.29 (d)

Meet the Author

Sue Shellenbarger's "Work & Family" columns have been appearing regularly in The Wall Street Journal since 1991. The former chief of the Journal's Chicago news bureau, Shellenbarger has been writing and editing for the Journal for seventeen years. She has also served as a contributing editor and columnist for Parenting magazine and as a financial markets columnist for the Associated Press.
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Read an Excerpt

Few issues are more universal than tension between work and family. From the hard-pressed manager with no time for children, spouse or aged parents, to the single assembly-line worker with no child care for a night-shift job, tens of millions of Americans endure work-family conflict daily.

Worries about family needs are flooding the workplace because no one is home during the day anymore in most American households to attend to family. Three-quarters of mothers of children under 18 and two-thirds of caregivers to the elderly also hold paid jobs.

Even those who do stay home to care for loved ones are touched by our collective anxiety over work and family. The American obsession with work as a centerpiece of personal identity compels all of us to develop a rationale for the roles we choose vis-à-vis the workplace. Thus at-home parents define themselves in terms of the choices they have made about working, calling themselves "formerly employed mothers" or "sequencers" to make the point that they, too, could work if they chose to.

Evidence that families in our society, particularly children, are in trouble has deepened our psychological dilemma. Growing concern about poor-quality child care, high juvenile crime and suicide rates and a troubling incidence of teen pregnancy, depression and drug use have helped give rise in the 1990s to what historian Neil Howe has called a "parenthood revival."

And societal values are changing. Severed by corporate layoffs from a lifelong bond with one employer, many American workers, men in particular, are turning inward and homeward to find new meaning.

When The Wall Street Journal created the"Work & Family" column in 1991, no one was covering work-family conflict in a systematic way. Women's progress in the workplace in the wake of the feminist movement had drawn consistent and deserved media attention. And the public, riveted by sociologist Arlie Hochschild's book The Second Shift, was beginning to realize that juggling work and family in this new, no-boundaries context was a black hole for human energy, sucking the creativity and vitality out of primarily women. But media coverage of work-family matters was confined mostly to scattered stories about a child-care center here, a job-sharing setup there. Little attention was given workers' day-to-day emotional struggles, emerging family solutions, cross-generational tensions or the byzantine workplace stresses that were arising on this new work-and-family landscape.

The "Work & Family" column was born of the wreckage of my own career. As a stepmother who, with my husband, shared joint custody of three wonderful children with his first wife, I had strong hints throughout the 1980s that combining work and family was tough. But nothing compared with the conflicts I experienced after the birth of my first natural child in 1987. As chief at the time of The Wall Street Journal's third largest domestic bureau in Chicago, I felt a compelling responsibility for the careers and professional growth of the 15 reporters and editors there. I loved, and still love, journalism and had reaped more intellectual growth and stimulation from my career than from any other facet of my life up to that point. However, I also was driven by the most powerful imperative I have ever felt: The instinctive drive to make sure that my baby was nurtured well.

My worries about the constant compromises I kept making to combine work and family had me tossing and turning through sleepless nights. Try as I might--and notwithstanding my employer's unstinting support and commitment to helping me resolve my conflicts--I simply couldn't make newsroom rhythms and staffers' needs mesh with the responsibilities of motherhood as I interpreted them. For the first time in my career, I had encountered a problem that I couldn't solve by working harder or smarter.

In successive steps, I left management to return to reporting, then scaled back to a part-time schedule. After the birth of my second child in 1990, I left my position at the Journal to become a full-time freelancer and regain the sense of control over my life that I wanted. Throughout my effort to reconcile work and family imperatives, I, like millions of others in similar situations, felt isolated and alone.

It was at that step, as I regretfully left The Wall Street Journal staff, that my colleague and mentor at the paper, Larry Rout, a senior editor, suggested I consider writing a new column on work and family for the Marketplace Page of the paper. My managing editor quickly embraced the idea, and "Work & Family" was born in its early form, as a periodic collection of news briefs. I continued to write "Work & Family" and cover workplace issues for The Wall Street Journal as a freelancer and, in 1994, returned to the staff as a full-time telecommuter. The column was well received by readers, and in October of that year, with the support of then-Marketplace Page Editor Cynthia Crossen, we expanded it to its current one-topic form and increased its frequency to three times a month from once every three weeks.

Editors watched closely to see if the column was substantive enough to warrant a permanent slot. One of my acquaintances remarked, "How can you sustain a column about work and family for more than three weeks? What could you possibly write about?" In fact, the inner conflicts and personal growth that millions of Americans were experiencing over work-family matters proved a rich lode of material that today, nearly five years later, still runs as deep as ever.

I built the column on a foundation of people's heartfelt personal stories and try each week to touch some universal human chord--some element in our strivings that would bring us all together. I believe that's the main reason the column survives and thrives. In the work-family stories of other people, readers find relief, at least temporarily, from the sense of aloneness we often experience while trying to support families, raise good children and do right by our elders.

Hundreds of letters have poured into my home office over the years, telling how the column has prompted readers to examine their life choices, change parenting techniques or look for a new employer. "I cried when I read your column because I want desperately to be at home with my son but can't afford it," one woman wrote in response to a column about the backlash against working parents. Executives write and call with questions about how to improve the quality of their workplaces. "Congratulations on causing us to think about child care in a new way," wrote a Connecticut man in response to a profile of a child-care provider. Another column, on how a CEO responded to the death of his wife, led a Colorado executive to write, "You've made leaders think."

Today, "Work & Family" is one of five regular Marketplace Page columns that are among the best-read features in The Wall Street Journal. Other columns cover personal technology, health, careers and front-line business strategies, and each has a strong voice and personal, subjective viewpoint. The 100 "Work & Family" columns in this collection were all published between 1994 and 1998 and are organized into eight topic areas, including starting a family, creating a home, raising kids, balancing life day-to-day, negotiating workplace demands, understanding employer policies, caring for aged family members and fathoming the effect of different generations' work-and-family views on each other.

As the columns show, the context for our work-and-family struggles is changing fast. The "conspiracy of silence" that once surrounded family concerns at work, as the late Felice Schwartz of Catalyst, a nonprofit New York research and advocacy concern, observed, is ending as more workers give voice to their conflicts. Old gender-role taboos are crumbling and technology is shattering the boundaries of the workplace, giving workers more choices than ever in how to combine work and family. Families are changing in form, children's developmental needs are better understood, workplace policies are evolving and flexible-work opportunities have never been greater.

Through all the changes, the mission of the "Work & Family" column remains the same: To help individual readers align the moment-to-moment reality of their daily lives with their most cherished personal values and responsibilities. In that, I hope, they might attain that elusive Holy Grail of the modern age: The inner peace that comes with leading a balanced and well-examined life.
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