Balancing Work and Family

by Stephen R. Covey

Being principle-centered as a pathway to life balance is a key element and vital concept to remember in thinking about how best to meet your challenges with your work and family.

Could you fake fifty push-ups? Could you fake cardio-vascular fitness? Of course not. Why do you think you can fake a meaningful relationship with your teenage son? Can you imagine in any sense that creating a lasting relationship would be a product of cramming? Of some quick-fix approach? Obviously it is a function of the law of the harvest – we will always reap as we sow.

Marriage also is subject to the law of the harvest. The key is alignment with principles. We control our actions, but the consequences that flow from those actions are controlled by principles. The body, the mind, marriage, family, all relationships – every natural system is governed by principle, by natural laws. This is particularly true as we consider how to find a sense of balance between work and family.

Now intellectually, this may not be hard to understand, but emotionally this is a tough idea because the social value system of most people is determined by some quick fix, some way of short-cutting this natural process. There is none.

We will always reap as we sow. Try to find one exception anywhere of any person or relationship or enduring family that is not based upon principles. I would challenge anybody. There is not true enduring balance, enduring success, apart from these principles. None.

Someone might say, “Yeah, but what about this person or this family?” All I’d say is, “How’s the marriage?” “Well, he’s into his third.” “How’s the quality of his relationship with his teenagers?” “Well, it’s kind of rocky, but look at the money he makes,” or look at the prestige that he has or whatever.

It’s all cosmetic, surface stuff, my friends. There are a lot of things that can give material success that are apart from this. But to take-long term success, not just material success, but social, psychological growth of people, of family members, and a sense of contribution and meaning, I do not think you can find an exception anywhere of a truly effective or balanced person or family that does not have at least a pretty good handle on these principles.

Life Centers

Now, I would like to briefly discuss what can happen if we don’t put principles at the center of our lives and don’t base our decisions on a balanced set of principles.


Let’s just say that I put my work at the center of my life. Everything is oriented around my work, all relationships, all pleasures, everything has to do with my work. How do I see my relatives? (As contacts, customers, referral sources.) How would you perceive your little children if you’re work-centered? (Obstacles. Oh, I have to deal with that, what an interference. Go through the motions, you know, try to do my family thing so that I can get back to work.) Work-centered people may become “workaholics,” driving themselves to produce and sacrifice health, family and others important areas of their lives. Their fundamental identity comes from their work. Taking care of one’s family is a noble reason for making money. But to focus on money-making as a center will bring about its own undoing. (Money-centered people often put aside family or other priorities, assuming everyone will understand that economic demands come first.)


Another common center for many people is possessions,”things”, “stuff”, not only tangible, material possessions such as fashionable clothes, homes, cars, boats and jewelry, but also the intangible possessions of fame, glory or social prominence. Most of us are aware, through our own experience, how totally flawed such a center is, simply because it can evaporate so rapidly.


Perhaps the most common center today is the self. The most obvious form is selfishness and greed, which violates the values of most people. But if we look closely at many of the popular approaches to growth and self-fulfillment and even approaches to work and family issues, we often find self-centeredness at their core.


Finally, what if we put family at our center? This, too, may seem to be natural and proper. Now I want to make a distinction here: I’m not talking about “prioritizing” your family; rather I’m talking about putting your family at your center. As a center in and of itself, it ironically destroys the very elements necessary to family success and work-family balance.

We could go through an analysis of every alternative center. Or even a combination of them and I’ll guarantee at the conclusion of it all it will cause tremendous imbalance and your life will be unfulfilled. Only when we put principles at the center of our lives will we be able to bring a sense of proper pacing and a sense of proportion, perspective and appropriate balance to our family and work and other important roles in our life.

This sense of balance includes consideration of any number of relevant principles and not the elevation of a single principle to the exclusion of other principles. It allows us to be adaptable, flexible and sensitive, yet still effective, in a wide variety of changing circumstances and roles – while still being true to our deepest priorities in life. It allows us to deal with whatever changes may come along and gives us a constant frame of reference to make all decisions by.

Take time with your family and loved ones to make explicit what principles are. Principles ultimately govern. As Abraham Lincoln put it, “People will pass away, but principles will live…live on forever.”

Copyright 1996, 1998 Covey Leadership Center and Franklin Covey. All rights reserved. Stephen R. Covey is the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families and other best-selling works.