How much work is too much work?

August 21st, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 3 comments

First off, I must thank you for all of your insights that have made my life – and the life of others whom I have stewardship over better. Thank you.

I think I’m losing balance in my life and I want to see what your (and the Bible’s) views are on the situation. My conflict comes from my employer who requires me to travel 1-3 times a month on weekends and I also work full time during the week (6 am to 4pm). I know my employers are my customers and I want to make them as happy as I can. 

Recently they approached me and requested I ‘think and pray’ about working more hours during the week. They want me to take 1-2 more days to work in the evening. They told me I can just ‘come in later,’ which is fine, but it takes time away from my family.

My family isn’t awake at 4 am when I work now, but they are when I get home at 4. If I was to wake up at 8 and get to work at 9, my family is still asleep – and it just takes 3 hours a day away from them.

When can I say no? Can I say no? If I was to adopt this schedule I would only see my kids for around 4-6 hours a week – especially on the weeks I travel. 

To complicate matters, 2 years ago I wanted to increase my value to my customers so I started a company that supplies my employers with half of their clients. (My side business funnels business to my employers) So finding another job will cut into my income substantially. The only reason I’m in business is because I’m employed by them.

Essentially I’m asking: Should I do everything my employers ask to make them (my customers) happy? 

What’s the line if there is one?

Thank you,

Ben

Dear Ben,

As always, to give you specific advice we would have to be in a position of holding many hours of conversation with you and your wife to understand what you do, what your options are, how financially healthy your bank account is, your children’s ages and a slew of other pertinent factors. (This is exactly what we do in our personal coaching program.) All we can do is raise issues that you should consider.

When we were actively serving the synagogue we founded in Los Angeles, we also started an associated elementary school. Since our synagogue initially was composed mostly of singles, the school drew its students from  other sources, for example Jewish families in the neighborhood who were not affiliated with any synagogue. As part of the admission process, parents agreed to attend a number of “parent educational evenings” which I (Rabbi Daniel Lapin) led. 

The question you ask is similar to one that I posed to these parents early on. I asked each mother and father to write the answer to the following question on a piece of paper:

How many days am I willing to be  away from home each month or agree to my spouse being away from home on business travel per month, in order to double our family income?

There wasn’t a correct answer. What interested us was how few married couples agreed on an answer.  Almost always the husband wrote down a higher number of days than the wife. None of the couples in our small groups had ever discussed this question though work travel was a feature for most of them. We do notice that nowhere in your question, Ben, do you mention your wife’s reaction and input. The very first thing we recommend you do is talk this through with your wife,  comprehensively and over a few days. 

We also noticed that you mention your employers asking you to pray over this matter. If your employers are religious, we would hope that your family concerns matter greatly to them. In a preliminary conversation before giving an answer can you explain why the evening hours are more valuable to you in a way that coming in late in the morning is not? If they want you to change hours, maybe they can compensate with less travel or in some other way? 

Your letter suggests that you have an entrepreneurial spirit although at the moment you have tied your side business into your main job. What other ideas can you brainstorm that would make you less dependent on this particular job? 

Without knowing much more about you, we cannot help you come to a definitive answer. The question is certainly a proper one. The income you bring in is only one of the valuable ways you contribute to your family. At a certain point the cost of making a better living can become too high a price to pay. You are correct in your understanding that although work is an important part of your life, there still must be balance between all the elements.

We encourage you not only to share your thought processes with your wife but also to network with men in your church and social group who can provide valuable input. Quiet time spent in prayer is also valuable. It seems to us that at the moment you are only seeing two options, to either accept or reject the offer. We see room for creativity and flexibility. Perhaps with your wife’s help the morning routine and breakfast can become more valuable family time, perhaps you exchange later hours for less travel, maybe you can accept for a limited length of time as you develop a new side business? Don’t limit your options only to those that you can think of on your own. 

Let us know what decision you and your wife make,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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3 comments

Al Hoffman says:

Thank you. I almost forgot. The busy-ness if family can separate members. Yet, looking back, I just got the gladness of remembering helping my dad with tasks. The keeping fridge filled, house warmed, etc., are not miniscule.

Akanna says:

“Don’t limit your options only to those that you can think of on your own.”
That’s a good saying!

Susan Lapin says:

And so true, Akanna, when we are looking to solve a problem.

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