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Work & Family: When parents run kids' activities on work time
Thursday, October 20, 2005

Eric Wukitsch puts in long hours in his role as chief financial officer for a Woodbridge, N.J., apparel concern. But for the past five years, he has quietly spliced a second job into his workday:

Little League coach.

In his coaching role for his two sons' spring, fall and all-star teams, Mr. Wukitsch spends five to seven hours at the office each week sending daily emails to parents, calculating player statistics and fielding several parent phone calls a day. "It really is two jobs," he says.

Although he gets to his desk at 6 a.m., his best efforts to manage it all quietly failed in July when an irate dad, angry that his son wasn't getting more playing time, stormed into the lobby of Mr. Wukitsch's company and demanded to see him. "I think you'd better come to the front desk," the receptionist told Mr. Wukitsch by phone, trying not to laugh. Mr. Wukitsch met the man and sent him away, but the invasion caused a stir.

As kids' fall school sports, clubs and activities get into full swing, their extracurricular activities are encroaching on office life. Many youth activities, it seems, require ever-intensifying travel, fund raising and competition. To manage it all, parents are jamming their volunteer roles into the workday, using company copiers, faxes, phones and computers to print schedules, send emails and make calls, budgets and flyers.

Working parents say integrating extracurricular pursuits with office life is the only way to get everything done; also, growth in communications technology enables them to do either work or personal tasks both at home and the office. Still, the trend can cause problems for co-workers and employers, calling in some cases for more thoughtful time management.

No one tracks parents' extracurricular use of office resources. But 82 percent of kids ages six to 17 take part in extracurricular activities, says Child Trends, a nonprofit Washington, D.C., research group.

As treasurer for her 15-year-old son's traveling soccer team, Kathy Boscole, a Seattle software developer and mother of three, keeps the team budget on an Excel spreadsheet in her office computer, sends families' financial statements, pays bills and makes calls and copies at the office. She also organizes two soccer car pools. "I sometimes wonder if I should try to make that separation more" between extracurricular duties and job, Ms. Boscole says. "But right now, I haven't."

The extracurricular demands upon Chicago mother Lisa Wells got so bad she quit her job. Formerly a communications executive for an ad agency, Ms. Wells says, "I always felt so guilty doing this stuff at work when I had a full-time job, and frankly, I got tired of saying no." She started her own business, freeing her to plunge into projects for her son's private school. Now, she works part-time and fits extracurricular pursuits into her days off.

All the multitasking can raise co-workers' ire. A survey of 3,015 employees released this month by the Ethics Resource Center, a nonprofit Washington, D.C., research and advocacy group, shows 13 percent have seen what they regard as abuse by co-workers of employers' email and Internet. And 18 percent said they had seen co-workers put their personal interests over those of their employer.

More than three-fourths of employers have written policies on monitoring personal use of company computers and email, and more than half monitor phone use, says a survey of 336 human-resource managers by Society for Human Resources Management, an Alexandra, Va., professional group. Many of the policies prohibit personal use of office gear. However, many employers may turn a blind eye to parental transgressions that don't interfere with work.

Ms. Boscole's CEO, Kris Barker of Express Matrix, a Seattle software-management concern, allows employees to do extracurricular work as long as they get their jobs done well -- which Ms. Boscole does. He drew the line, however, when an employee's use of the company fax machine for a sports project interfered with incoming sales orders. "Some of this stuff," he says he told the employee, "you need to do on your own time."

Many working parents justify the extracurricular distractions by pointing out that they do as much or more office work at home. A 2002 survey of 501 adults showed employees spend an average 3.7 hours a week doing personal tasks online at the office. But they spend 5.9 hours working at their paid jobs from home, says the study, by the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, College Park. Ms. Boscole puts in as many as 12 hours on weekends and a couple of predawn hours each workday doing job-related tasks from home.

"People who are running copies of the soccer schedule on the company copier may not give it a second thought, because they're also using their home resources to do work -- the home PC, the phone, a room in the house, paper and personal time," says Jeff Saltzman, chief executive officer of Sirota Survey Intelligence, Purchase, N.Y., which surveys 1.5 million employees annually on work issues. Thus if a big project for a sports team or dance troupe needs doing, parents may opt to do it at the office -- where the technology often is better.

The most common ethical error in such cases, says Pat Harned, president of the Ethics Resource Center, is sneaking around. To the extent that you are tending your kids' business at the office and working at home to make up for it, she advises, "inform your employer of what you're doing."

First published on October 20, 2005 at 12:00 am