Double Booked: Building Human-friendly Workplaces that Value the Human Spirit

By Isaac Luria

I was invited recently to a conference organized by the Obama Administration on combating child trafficking – an issue that as a dad, I care a ton about.

Excited, I called my wife to see how we could make it work. I learned she had important funding and board meetings that day that would mean she was leaving the house early and getting home after bedtime. None of our family’s baby-sitters were available. Oy.

Isaac's son Caleb sees where his Dad works, promptly gets on Dad's chair and starts making calls. Summer 2013.

Isaac’s son Caleb sees where his Dad works, promptly gets on Dad’s chair and starts making calls. Summer 2013.

I said no, citing the family difficulties in an email back to the organizers, copying my colleague.

My colleague called later that day to say she was surprised – pleasantly, I think – that I was so explicit about my family responsibilities keeping me home. She even said a woman in my position wouldn’t want to have anyone think her maternal commitments were holding her back professionally.

That’s when I realized that my candid email was my intentional effort to advocate for a different way of understanding work.

Since I’ve begun to engage the work and family balance question with my young children and my wife – whose career as a Rabbi and Jewish innovator is deeply important to both of us – I’ve realized that soulfully balancing work, life, and children means we have to go deeper than the “lean in” framework or just looking to policy solutions.

Yes, we will need good policies like paid family sick leave, longer school days (kids learn more, too), flexible work-from-home arrangements, and universal pre-K. We will need to fight to get more women to positions of power and influence in our organizations.

We also need to take a long, hard look at the way we work. Are we creating workplaces that value children and our own humanity not only because it makes us turn out better work, but simply because we were created in the image of God?

Our souls need feeding with laughter, music, dancing, and joy with our colleagues – and also real rest, and honest downtime. What would it look like if our workplaces intervened when someone was working too much to lighten their load, rather than rewarding overwork with recognition? Or expected us all to take every day of our vacation time every year? And had a policy against rapid-fire email chains before 9am, after 6pm, and on the weekends?

Of course many of us love our work – and thank G-d, I do. Aligning my work with my deepest understanding of my life purpose is a gift I am grateful for each day. We need to focus on helping people align with purpose in their work in a deep, spiritual way. Yet when love becomes obsession, it is no longer really love. We need to prioritize our lives – not just our work – with a balance of family, rest, hard work, learning, worship, and leisure.

For me, working to hand off a better world to the next generation requires that I am spending quality time with my community and with my children. I can’t just advocate for family friendly policies in the government; I have to do so in my workplace and I have to live my life, day-to-day, in line with what I think work should look like if we are going to truly value the next generation.

This means publicly citing family obligations in front of staff and supervisors to model healthy work and to strengthen those struggling with the same commitments. These models have given me enormous strength to follow my own path. It also means being genuinely ready to cheer a staff member’s pregnancy and tell a staff person to go home to care for a sick kid even if that means they have to push back important deadlines.

We should also re-examine the language we use. The term “family-friendly” could be replaced with “human-friendly” – human-friendly policies and human-friendly workplaces. Reimagining work – reducing hours, taking more breaks, working smarter, attending to our spirits – won’t just benefit parents, but all of us and the causes we serve.

Isaac Luria is the Vice President for Auburn Action at Auburn Theological Seminary in NYC. At Auburn, Isaac leads the Seminary’s training programs on faith-rooted social action and storytelling for social change. He also directs Auburn’s multifaith social action network Groundswell. Originally from Amherst, MA, Isaac now lives in Brooklyn with his wife Rabbi Sara Luria and two lovely children, Caleb, 4, and Eva, 2. 

Comments are an important part of the conversation. Share your thoughts in the comments sectionThis blog is part of a special RACBlog series, “Double Booked: A Conversation about Working Families in the 21st Century,” dealing with the many issues that affect working families, and featuring everything from personal stories to policy analysis. Visit the Double Booked portal to read more posts, or join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag #doublebooked.

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6 Responses to “Double Booked: Building Human-friendly Workplaces that Value the Human Spirit”

  1. Great post! I was hoping at the end that the Obama Administration was so impressed by your commitment to your family that they called you and invited you to bring the kids along. As a big believer in living life with balance I truly appreciated this. Nice to see a shift in the overworked paradigm that more means more, because more often than not, more means less.

  2. What a great post. Funny, i just posted something similar on MomsRising this week. I was talking about an update I just released for my new interactive ibook, Lean On and Lead. Brief excerpt:

    “Lean On and Lead 1.0 already had twenty-four compelling interviews with working mothers and fathers that demonstrated why policy-makers should care about how families actually function in the real world. Their stories provided examples of the ways in which our economy and society are not taking full advantage of women’s talents, expertise, and education, and also described the complex set of supports that parents, and in particular women, lean on in order to lead. Lean on and Lead 1.1 adds to this conversation and provides a new layer of interaction to the project.

    “For example, in the midst of editing last month, I read a Business Insider article by Sabrina Parsons, CEO of Palo Alto Software, in which she talked about the importance of changing workplace cultures to accommodate parents. I contacted Parsons for an interview, and she told me the story of how she decided to bring her babies to work and how as CEO, she supports other moms (and dads) doing the same and finding other flexible solutions for integrating family with work. Around the same time, I also learned about how Hawaii State Senator Jill Tokuda had brought her newborn to the senate floor, and I had the good fortune to include an audio interview with her in a widget (including photos of her and her babies at work) that I added to the Parsons interview in my Lean On and Lead update.”

    Anyway…looks like we have common interests. Would love to talk more.

  3. Rachel Laser

    YES to this whole piece! That said, it’s so hard to draw the line. For example, very concretely, when is the right time to say no when you don’t *have* to be home but want to be (i.e. in the evening). For many of us, we work just as many hours as we want to be gone from our families, and that can make us seem rigid. It’s a balancing act for sure, but one made all the easier by a workplace that is…HUMAN friendly to all of us, including those who do not have kids in the home!

  4. When I became a consultant, I felt more at ease letting people know that my inability to attend a meeting or whatever was family-related. Going back to work inside an organization, I am trying to maintain that honesty, so that I am setting a precedent for others. It’s hard though – women are indeed judged harshly for letting their family priorities overtake work priorities at times. And I too, am privileged to do work that I love and cherish – but not at the expense of my family. Thank you, Isaac, for a thoughtful and thought-provoking post.


  1. Groundswell | Multifaith Movement for Justice | - March 7, 2014

    […] By Isaac LuriaOriginally posted on the Religious Action Center blog […]

  2. Isaac Luria for #DoubleBooked: Double Booked: Building Human-friendly Workplaces that Value the Human Spirit « MomsRising Blog - February 26, 2014

    […] This blog originally appeared on February 25, 2014 as part of the Religious Action Center’s blog series “Double Booked: A Conversation about Working Families in the 21st Century.” Double Booked deals with the many issues that affect working families, and features everything from personal stories to policy analysis. Visit the Double Booked portal to read more posts and subscribe for updates, or join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag #doublebooked.  […]

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