25 July 2014

Have your cake and eat it, too

25 July 2014

Joanna Koh-Hoe is a recipient of the Work-Life Leadership Award 2010. She has appeared on media interviews and regularly addresses small and large audiences ranging from children and teens, to young adults and parents. Together with her husband, they serve in the community as licensed marriage solemnisers and family life trainers. Since the arrival of their “miracle son”, they have dreamt of becoming a family band! 

Here, in a guest blog for our Manpower Blog, she tells us how she juggles work and family.

Work Life Balance

Not many people get promoted to lead their organisation while on maternity leave. 

Not many employees have the privilege of being granted a two-year sabbatical. 

Not many women can enjoy the luxury of becoming a stay-home mum without putting an end to their career.

And… not many get conferred an award for work-life leadership while still figuring out work-life success!
 I count myself blessed to have been given these opportunities. 

Opportunity costs

But here’s the “dark side” of that glowing reality. None of these came without a price. 

It probably helped that from the start of my working life, I was determined to choose a career path less trodden in that era. Embarking on a career in the non-profit social service sector meant giving up the youthful ambitions many of us harbour with regard to earning lots of money through slogging it out in the early years of one’s career. It meant working hard at something simply because I believed in it, and even when recognition and rewards were found wanting. 

When my husband and I “received” our long-awaited child, we humbly accepted any kind of hand-me-downs, grateful to save on the otherwise huge expenses involved in delivering and raising a child. While our peers started to climb the corporate ladder and engaged in happening yuppie lifestyles, we chose to forego similar activities in order to channel that time (and money) to our loved ones. And to us, it was worth it. 


Several years ago, while I was part of the panel of successful women who talked about work-life balance and debated whether one could really have it all, I remember pointing out that not every woman was lucky enough to be married to a wealthy husband, or to come from a highly endowed family, or to have remarkable gifts and talents – or to possess a combination of everything! Many don’t have the support of an extended family and may not be able to afford acquiring additional help to juggle work and family. 

Next to these women, I felt inadequate. At that time, I was juggling a team of about 20 mostly 20-somethings with work ideals and styles that many in the workforce deemed difficult to understand, much less manage. In fact, I had to bring my preschooler along with me that day and park him in the lobby with an unsuspecting youth from church who was kind (or naïve?) enough to watch him for a couple of hours! 


Fast forward to today, and I can say that I know that success in work and in family is within my reach, if I am willing to make the choice and intentionally live out that choice on a daily basis. With each choice I make, it means foregoing something else. It is the same for nearly every other choice we make in life as well.

There are a finite number of hours in a day and only so much we can do. Something has got to give. Will it be your family or your work? Will it be meaningful relationships or calculated profit?

It is not an easy decision to make and here are some principles that have helped me:

We can’t have it all– Avoid the lifestyle trap

Dave Ramsey says it this way, “We buy things we don't need with money we don't have to impress people we don't like.”

The modern lifestyle has made many money-rich but time-poor. In striving for “success”, those who matter most to us are often the first to be squeezed out as there is little or no time for them. Unwittingly, we end up missing our kids growing up, having no friends to speak of, and nursing a body that is wrecked from overwork.

How I do it: I make use of the government childcare leave and ensure that I pen into my schedule important family events (including birthday celebrations and being a parent volunteer for my child’s school learning journey), in the same way that I’d do for important meetings with staff and key partners. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are often a source of stress for people, but I use this organisational tool to keep myself focused on the main thing that matters.

We can’t do it all – Accept our limitations

The problem is not that you still to find the perfect schedule so you can do it all. The problem is that you don’t have enough time – at home and at work. As a result, someone is not going to get what they expect or need from you. If we think we can do it all, it can create pressure and stress. 

None of us has bad intentions towards our families, but good intentions aren’t enough. Accepting that you can’t do everything sometimes means saying “no”. It’s a seductive process which makes us believe we can say “yes” to everything.

How I do it: Before I commit to something new, I ask myself a couple of questions: (1) Who is the best person to do this? Delegation is sometimes necessary, especially as a leader. (2) How much time and effort should I be putting into this? This keeps me disciplined in terms of time management and efficient in planning ahead and being sure what I can – or cannot – do. 

We can juggle it all – Acquire true success by focusing on relationships

Rob Parsons, a successful lawyer who gave up his law practice to found UK Charity, Care for the Family, remarked, “I meet successful men and women everyday who have often achieved beyond their wildest dreams. These are men and women whom others would love to emulate and yet they would give all they possess if only they could change the past. Their great regret is almost always in the area of relationships.”  
Relationships are about connectedness, which requires time to nurture. Recognise the toll your busyness is taking on your relationships at home and at work. Whether we are bona fide workaholics or simply over-achievers who have taken on too much, we need to ask ourselves: In our drive to create an illusion of self-worth that's based on what we accomplish, are we doing irreparable damage to cherished relationships with our children, family and friends? 

How I do it: One thing I have learnt from Focus’ work-life programme, The Heart of Success, is to put family before career (Law #5). We often think this means forsaking work ethics and skipping work to tend to family matters. On the contrary, it is about achieving a win-win relationship between work and home such that you can give the best to both. Not wanting to “cheat” my family of time with them, I tap on flexi-work arrangements by spending the morning with my son and reporting to the office only after I have sent him to school. I pick up the work that I do best in a quiet environment, at home, after I have put my son to bed. When there is critical need for work engagements outside of the usual office face-time, I ensure that I “make up for lost time” by giving my family some undivided attention during the weekend. I haven’t “arrived” either. Work-Life Harmony is a lifelong journey and balance. But returning home to my lovely husband and son is a constant assurance that the trade-offs I make today are worth it!

- Joanna Koh-Hoe

Friends and colleagues describe Joanna as an inspiring – and sometimes intense – leader. A psychology graduate who moved upstream from remedial therapy and case management, she presently serves as CEO of Focus on the Family Singapore (, a local charity dedicated to helping families thrive through differentiated programmes, trusted resources, family counseling and content placement in various media.  Focus on the Family Singapore is also a two-time recipient of the national Work-Life Excellence Award 2010 and 2012 which recognises good employers with family-friendly practices and excellent employee engagement.

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