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Confessions of an HR Wife

September 1, 1997
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Related Topics: Work/Life Balance, Stress Management, Your HR Career, Featured Article
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It was my husband's "dream company." Ed had always wanted to work at America Inc. In college, people would ask him where he wanted to work when he graduated. Ed would reply, "I want to work for America Inc. It's a good, solid company." But, as circumstances often go, after college he went to work elsewhere. He filed the dream in the back of his mind.

Several years later, the opportunity to work at America Inc. presented itself. In fact, I (his fiance at the time) found out by accident they were hiring. He hired on in one of their human resources areas. Ed was elated. So was I. He was working for his dream company. And he was on cloud nine.

It was 1989, only a few months before our wedding. Things couldn't have been better. From the moment he set foot in the office, he loved the company, his job and his co-workers, and he planned a long and prosperous career there. At the same time, we were just starting out as a young couple, in love, and spending every nonworking moment together. But Ed and I weren't just in love, we were best friends-and inseparable. It was a honeymoon, both for his job and for our relationship. We were blissful, joyous.

But the honeymoon was soon interrupted. My husband received news of a possible process reengineering effort within his HR department. The senior HR director announced a feasibility study to decide if the effort was warranted. That was 1991. A year later, his boss announced the process reengineering effort would be implemented and that ultimately, it would mean Ed's job, and his department, would be outsourced. We braced ourselves for the future and dove head first into what has ultimately become a dark cloud over our relationship.

The overtime started slowly. By early 1995, I noticed my husband coming home later. Ed worked 50 to 55 hours a week. His absence began to take a bite out of our evenings. Sometimes, after work, I'd get hungry waiting for him and ate alone. At first, he found the new project challenging. And I found the time alone a chance to get a few extra things done. His director predicted the project would take only a year to complete.

Hour by hour, my husband's job got bigger. People in his department left for other opportunities leaving fewer employees to do more work. I admit, this situation was softened by the department's hiring a few replacements from the company's internal temp pool. But these are people who couldn't take on the department's more difficult-level work.

Fortunately, Ed has a job in one of America Inc.'s other human resources departments waiting for him. But a corporate mandate put a freeze on that job until his current one is complete. Despite the drain on his personal time, he still likes the company and wants to stick it out. We decided we could handle it-together. After all, it was only supposed to be a year.

But things got worse. A merger caused Ed's department to be overloaded with another project-on top of the staff's "regular work." At a time when his director should have put the first project on hold, he allowed both efforts to continue. I never saw my husband. By then, he was working 70 hours a week. Once Ed put in 90 hours. I remember him leaving the house before I got up and not seeing him before I went to bed. There were no more dinners together. No more relaxing hours watching movies. No weekends together. Somehow during that time, we had a baby. I'm not really sure how.

Two years later, the original project continues. It's expected that people work overtime to whatever degree the company needs. Overtime has been institutionalized in his area. My husband isn't a workaholic by nature. But Ed's company has made him look like one. Sure, everyone in his area works the same horrendous hours. Even the director. They joke about the grueling hours. But I don't.

Now we have two children. I spend the weekends alone with them. We go places and tell him about it later. It makes me angry that I've lost my husband to a job and that the only way to stop the madness is for him to quit. It's not fair to make people choose between their relationships and their work, by dangling a future opportunity like a golden ring. I thought HR professionals, of all people, were supposed to understand the value of work/life balance. My husband's surrounded by people who should know better. But the people who could do something about it, choose to let it continue. Perhaps they can't see the forest for the trees.

All I can see are dead leaves.

SOURCE: Louise Sergeant, Ed and America Inc. are pseudonyms. All the circumstances, however, are real. Any resemblance to other individuals or corporations is unintentional.

Workforce, September 1997, Vol. 76, No. 9, p. 70.

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