Academic journal article College Student Affairs Journal

Personal and Professional Balance among Senior Student Affairs Officers: Gender Differences in Approaches and Expectations

Academic journal article College Student Affairs Journal

Personal and Professional Balance among Senior Student Affairs Officers: Gender Differences in Approaches and Expectations

Article excerpt

This study examined the approaches and expectations about personal and professional balance among senior student affairs officers. Demographic variables were also examined to determine how they affected the relationships between the main variables.

Rapid and relentless organizational and technological changes in the late 20th-century workplace, coupled with major sociological changes, such as the entry of more women into the work force, the rise in single-parent households, and the assumption of more child-rearing duties by men, are enough to explain why people find it increasingly hard to appropriately balance the competing demands of the workplace and home. Professionals are expected to spend long hours away from home, leaving them with less time and energy to care for family and friends, let alone themselves. It is little wonder that despite both increased affluence and their intelligence, education, skill, and commitment, many professionals feel unfulfilled and helpless, beset by stress, frustration, and guilt. (Markel, 2000, p. 36)

Although an extensive literature exists on balancing personal and professional demands, little has been written nor has significant research been conducted on this issue from the perspective of the student affairs profession. However, the issue of balance is a recurring theme at conference programs and workshops focusing on the role of the senior student affairs officer (SSAO) and is a frequent topic of informal discussion among SSAOs. As Reisser (2002) noted, "Our world presents us with more challenges, opportunities, and demands than we can handle, even with our emerging skill at multitasking" (p. 49). Finding time for family and/or friends, personal renewal, wellness, and other priorities while juggling the demands of a job that requires a 24/7 commitment is more of a goal than an achievement. Some SSAOs have responded by allowing their professional lives to dominate, while others have allowed their personal lives to take center stage; still others have simply given up. However, few feel that personal fulfillment will be achieved by focusing solely on their professional role. Carpenter (2003) emphasized,

Professional identity is important, even critical, but it is only one part of life. Professions are more than jobs, but they are no substitute for family, for friends, for community, for health, and spiritual concerns. Balance is required to be a good person and a better person will be a more valuable professional, (pp. 584-585)

Although balance is often portrayed as an either/or proposition, personal and professional lives are interdependent, according to Toma and Grady (2002). Friedman and Greenhaus further asserted that "success in one area enhances the other, and the reverse is true as well" (as cited in Toma & Grady, p. 99). The need to have an integrated view of life and a life congruent with one's values is further stressed by Quinn, O'Neill, and Debebe (as cited in Toma & Grady). Ultimately, Toma and Grady concluded, the issue of balance boils down to "making choices based on values" (p. 98.) These ideas are synthesized in Kofodimos' (1993) definition of balance-"finding the allocation of time and energy that fits your values and needs, making conscious choices about how to structure your life, and integrating inner needs and outer demands" (p. 8).

In Reisser (2002), several current and former SSAOs discussed how they have approached the issue of balancing personal and professional demands. Some common strategies emerge among those interviewed, including the need for (a) focusing on the big picture and the long term rather than the immediate crisis or the day-to-day ups and downs of the institution; (b) knowing thyself and living a life congruent with values; (c) focusing on family first, (d) taking time for mental, physical, and spiritual wellness; and (e) seeking and accepting challenges. These strategies do not detract from professional commitments, but benefit them instead. …

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