'Dual-Centric' Workers May Be Happiest

Has technology helped blur the distinction between your work and personal life? Are office e-mail, beepers, Blackberries and conference calls woven into your time at home?

If so, your home life may be the worse for it. But a recent study finds that things don't have to be that way.

The study found a new type of worker it calls "dual-centric": someone who puts equal focus on work and home and is less stressed, healthier, feeling happier at home, and more successful at work than work-centric colleagues.

‘Balance,’ Then and Now

The old belief about balance, says Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute in New York, implied a zero sum game, in which you must take away from one part of your life in order to give to the other.

But the study of about 1,200 senior executives at multinational companies, which FWI conducted earlier this year with Catalyst, a non-profit research organization, and the Boston College Center for Work & Family, found that nearly a third of them were dual-centric.

Dual-centrics have three common traits. They can compartmentalize, they take breaks, and they tend to have multiple interests.

Compartmentalizing, or drawing boundaries, is essential today, according to Janis Keyser, a Santa Cruz, Calif., expert in parenting and child development and co-author of Becoming the Parent You Want to Be,, because of the increasingly porous boundaries between work and personal life.

But dual-centrics can draw boundaries — and hold to them. They might work long hours some of the time (although they work five hours per week less than their work-centric brethren), but when home, they live fully in that world.

Lori Queisser, vice president and chief compliance officer with Eli Lilly and Co. in Indianapolis, is typical in that she won't look at e-mail or work until after her three children are in bed.

She thrives on her varied schedule. If she's worried about getting a child to piano lessons or dance class, that undermines her work on a project and vice versa, she says.

"If I know I can take Beth to piano and finish the project between 9 and 11 [p.m.], then I'm not stressed about it," she says. And, she finds that such breaks let her recharge.

Dual-centrics do take breaks frequently, both big and little.

Marie Wieck, vice president of industry solutions and industry integration at IBM in Cold Spring, N.Y., who has a frequently changing schedule and travels often, works hard to preserve weekends for the family.

She also took two leaves of absence (one nearly a year long) after the birth of each of her daughters, and then worked part time to focus on her family. She schedules family vacations well in advance — 2004 vacations are already in her calendar — and takes them.

Many dual-centrics are actually tri-centrics — involved in other activities besides home and work — photography, church or temple, gardening, crocheting. Both Queisser and Wieck are avid cooks. Wieck recently took up yoga. Queisser also is a gardener and photographer.

"It's really important to have outside interests," Queisser says. "You'd be amazed at the creative ideas you get for both sides of your life with them."

Men, Too, Choose the Path

Men are as likely as women to be dual-centric, according to the study. Craig Cooper, married, with three children, now corporation counsel for a West Coast company, switched career tracks from a national law firm, where there was heavy pressure to build up hours, to becoming an in-house attorney.

"I chose to go in house so I could have more time with my family," says Cooper, who feels he is a dual-centric who puts a slightly greater emphasis on family than on work.

While at the national law firm, most of his colleagues routinely stayed at the office while Cooper was home in time to see the kids and help put them to bed. Then he'd work from home for another three hours. Now he's at a company where most people go home at night to see their families.

Cooper sees more dual-centric women workers than men and indeed, although the FWI study found men as likely as women to be dual-centric, it noted that more high-ranking women had delayed marriage and parenthood than men had. A dual-centric lifestyle is not about having it all, but making choices about what will work for you.

Galinsky, the institute expert, believes the experiences of dual-centric executives can be a lesson for all workers, noting: "They all started out at the bottom."

Their success, she says, proves that putting equal focus on work and home can be a rewarding route to the top.

Tips for Being Dual-Centric

Here are some ways to become dual-centric, according to Queisser, Wieck, Galinsky and Keyser:

Define your goals — for example: be home in time for dinner each night. Articulate them, to family and boss. Then, meet them.

Get help. Mobilize your spouse, children, babysitters, parents — and recognize that delegating tasks to others means they won't be done exactly your way.

Forget the guilt. No matter how much you get done, there's more you could have done. Do the majors, forget the rest.

Delineate your worlds: Remember the difference between the rhythms of childhood and the high-speed pace of the working world.

Plan your transitions. Listen to music on your way home, meditate for a few minutes in your driveway, change your clothes, take the dog — and a kid or a spouse — on a walk before dinner.