April 15, 2015

For many journalists, the work is more than just a job, S. Mitra Kalita said on Wednesday after a session on work/life balance at the ONA-Poynter Leadership Academy for Women in Digital Media. And that can make finding balance tough.

The conversation was led by Kelly McBride, Poynter’s vice president of academic affairs, Kalita, incoming managing editor at the L.A. Times, and Latoya Peterson, deputy editor for voices at Fusion. It included how people can find balance and how managers can help create it. What surfaced is that you can’t separate work/life balance from a lot of other things, including relationships, culture and money, McBride said after the session.

“This is different depending on the culture that you work in and the boss that you work for,” she said. And managers and editors can’t just talk about balance, McBride said. “I think they need to role model, big time. I think you lead with your actions.”

Kalita and Peterson both recommended finding what works for you, whether it’s hours or culture or the ability to have flexibility.

“You don’t have to be like everyone else,” Kalita said. “I spent a lot of my career trying to be like everyone else, and everyone else is not like me.”

Peterson agreed.

“Embrace you,” she said. “Embrace yourself. You know how you work best. You know what works best and you’ll find environments that work for you.”

Here are four questions to ask yourself about your own work/life balance.

1. What does ideal balance look like to you in your life?

“Everyone has a different answer for this,” McBride said. “I don’t want to impose my ideal balance on somebody else, and as a manager, I don’t want one person’s ideal balance to become the default for the team.”

As a manager, McBride says you have to trust your employees enough to think about what will work for them, and if they’re not, finding time to help them.

2. What does ideal balance look like to the people who depend on you or partner with you?

“A lot of times we forget that there’s more than one person in this equation and it’s not your coworkers, it’s your co-livers,” McBride said. “I think a lot of women and men experience pressure because there’s a gap between their definition of ideal and their partner’s definition of ideal. Your work place can’t fix that.”

3. What does a typical week look like for you?

“People can’t get close to balance if they can’t even identify what average is for them,” McBride said. “You have to know how far away you are. It’s sort of like knowing that you’re out of shape but not knowing how out of shape you are, and then suddenly you go to the gym for the first time and it feels really bad.”

4. What are the gaps?

“Once you can articulate the gap between your ideal and what your average workweek is and the gap between your ideal and your loved ones, you name it and then you decide how you want to fix it or even if you want to fix it,” McBride said.

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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