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Leadership around the Clock: Balancing Caregiving and Chairing

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However, most of us find immense joy and gratitude in both our work and our home lives. It is unlikely any of us would give up either—we just, sometimes, would like it to all be a little easier. 


The posting below looks at ideas for helping department chairs achieve a better balance between work and home. It is by Nadine Hartig, Kenna Colley, and Melissa Grim and is from The Department Chair: A Resource for Academic Administrators, Spring, 2017, Vol. 27, No. 4. Copyright © 2017 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. For further information on how to subscribe, as well as pricing and discount information, please contact, Sandy Quade, Account Manager, John Wiley & Sons, Phone:  (203) 643-8066}




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Leadership around the Clock: Balancing Caregiving and Chairing


At the February 2016 Academic Chairpersons Conference, the keynote speaker and president of Central College, Dr. Mark Putman, encouraged chairs to “bring light, not heat” to our campuses. This statement stuck with us, as it is a gentle and intentional request to bring compassion, kindness, and clarity to our communities, even during times of stress, angst, and pressure. We ask the question, “Why not do that for ourselves as well?” Many of us began both our careers in academia and our families around the same time and envisioned a fluid blending of
the two. Years and burdens later, it is clear we have a long way to go toward family-friendly policies, balanced workloads, and role equality. However, most of us find immense joy and gratitude in both our work and our home lives. It is unlikely any of us would give up either—we just, sometimes, would like it to all be a little easier.

As a chair, do you feel like you are constantly being tugged between work
and family responsibilities and exhausted because you have only so much time and energy to deal with these responsibilities? If so, then you are dealing with role strain. It is impossible to give your undivided attention to both work and caregiving. This constant conflict uses up all our physical and psychological resources and can lead
to depletion fatigue. Depletion fatigue,
the compounding effects of role strain
and boundary setting, can sneak up on us without warning and occurs for a variety of reasons. First, we are often asked to parent a campus community and a family at the same time. Recent retention efforts on campuses mirror attachment interventions used in clinical and home settings. Those of us developing attachments with children are now needed to make deliberate and nurturing connections with students on campus. In addition, chairs are tasked with setting boundaries for faculty, students, and even upper administration. Anyone with a child knows this is a major developmental life task for home as well. Some of us may feel as if all we accomplished in a day was finding unique ways of saying
no without actually saying no. Those of us providing care for aging parents have an additional burden of negotiating boundaries and decisions with adults in both our work and our home settings. And unlike caring for children, caring for aging parents gets more difficult as time progresses.

Strategies for Balancing Caregiving and Chairing

Work closely with your dean. Let your dean know what your life burdens are and how this may affect you during the year. Your dean may have an entirely different set of circumstances than you. One person’s small problem is another’s emotional avalanche. Sharing these circumstances with plans to cover work responsibilities and department needs is important in building trust and cohesion in your working relationship.

If your dean is reluctant to work with you, then find out why, and see if you can collaborate on the issues. For example, if you need to leave twice a week at three thirty to go to soccer practice, is your
dean worried an emergency will arise at four o’clock that you will be unable to
deal with? Could this be solved with you being on call if there is an emergency and designating another faculty member in your department to answer any nonemergency issues during this time? Working with your dean on finding a solution to these issues demonstrates how much you value both your work and your family. It also demonstrates how responsive you are to the department and the institution. Ultimately, loyal and committed faculty and chairs make for a much better university or college.

Compartmentalize. Although we
all have become exceptionally efficient multitaskers, that does not mean we are doing all those things well. It is nearly impossible to completely avoid bleed
- over of work into family life (a looming deadline) or family life into work (my child is sick and has to come with me to work), but do what you can to keep them separate. If we don’t, then we find ourselves unable to enjoy time with our family because we are constantly checking email, or we are unable to work efficiently because of a family-related issue.

Outsource and work creatively at home.

This strategy can be tricky, but it is so
very useful. It is tricky because many of
us are overachievers. This is how we found ourselves in the chair seat. We feel as if
we should be able to tackle any problem
or task. However, being able to delegate and even to outsource can make us more efficient and happier chairs. Nadine Hartig learned this early in her career when she realized that outsourcing the editing and typing of her dissertation would save her
a tremendous amount of time she would otherwise pay for in child care. She is a much better mother than she is a typist, so it was a wise investment. Are there tasks you can outsource to maintain balance and be more efficient?

Another strategy: if you are waiting at the doctor’s office for an appointment or sitting at a sports practice, music lesson, or the like, then take this time to update your prioritized to-do list for the next day, and then put it away in your workbag. When going to sleep at night, try to celebrate and to feel a sense of relief knowing that you will begin your day with a well-mapped-out plan.

Outsource at work. Deans like chairs to be efficient and organized. When you need assistance or support, arrive at a meeting with a plan that demonstrates you have already taken several steps in problem solving on your own, then lay out a few other scenarios that you would like to try or need support for. You must ask for what you need. Complaining behind the scenes will not get you the assistance you require. In your requests, suggest how some of the tasks or work can be outsourced to a wage employee or an on-loan graduate assistant. State your budgetary needs up front with creative solutions to split-code a project across several budget pools.

Coach and mentor. Good leaders, no matter what their titles or positions, will occasionally take on tasks for others to show their support and also to model goodwill. Create time for others on your calendar, offer to pick up the ordered lunches at Panera on your way to the meeting, or help a colleague facilitate a problem-solving process. In order to coach and mentor faculty and students, you must demonstrate that you are human, helpful, and resourceful. This, in turn, will lead others to offer assistance when you need it and to understand that everyone must pitch in.

Accept that balance ebbs and flows. Your life will never be completely in balance. There will always be changing responsibilities that will never be equalized. Once we embrace the idea that there
will be times that we have to work late
at night so that we can attend our child’s soccer game, we realize we create our own sense of balance. Balance is not equal; it is maintaining sanity. How do we juggle our priorities, and how do we learn when it is okay to say no?

Model balance and grace with your faculty. If your institution does not have family-friendly policies, then work within institutional parameters to model this ever-changing balance. Although there is a threshold of work that must be done, try to offer flexibility in scheduling and the like. Show faculty that you also have these competing responsibilities and that sometimes you also have to make choices. You get the work done, but it might not always be between eight and five or from your office. Afford them the same grace and flexibility. ▲

This article is based on a presentation at the 33rd annual Academic Chairpersons Conference, February 3–5, 2016, Charleston, South Carolina.

Nadine Hartig is chair of the Department of Counselor Education, Kenna Colley is dean
of the College of Education and Human Development, and Melissa Grim is chair of the Department of Health and Human Performance at Radford University. Email: , ,