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Ryan's Demands Include Plea for Work-Life Balance

Ryan requested time with his family as a condition to become Speaker. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Much of the media attention on Rep. Paul D. Ryan’s “conditions” for becoming the next speaker focus on his requirement that three disparate factions of the GOP unite in support of him. But one condition tucked neatly into the list includes a plea for work-life balance: no weekend fundraising travel.  

The Wisconsin Republican cites his own family responsibilities for needing time away from work, and he is not alone in thinking that too many hours on the clock can lead to a less effective performance. Research has shown that taking periodic breaks to recharge — a quick walk, cup of coffee or even a few days for vacation — will actually improve work effectiveness and creativity.  

Brigid Schulte , author of the bestselling book, “Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time” said Ryan’s statement on weekend fundraising work may be his “line in the sand” on work-life issues.  

“When you talk about the day-to-day life of a lawmaker, it is a lot of running around trying to raise money,” said Schulte, who works as the director of the Breadwinning and Caregiving program at New America and the director of the Good Life Initiative. “Washington has been ‘stuck’ and completely dysfunctional. You have to wonder how much of that is not just a partisan atmosphere, but that they are all going 24/7: Trying to raise money, meet with donors, and they don’t have the time to think about issues, or sit down to talk to each other to forge some sort of solution or common ground.”  

Members of Congress are already working hectic schedules, with an average of 70 hours per week when in session and nearly 60 hours per week for district work periods, with approximately 13 meetings a day, according to a report by the Business-Industry Political Action Committee and the Congressional Management Foundation. Fundraising activities are expected to be conducted outside of all official business, and the extra steps taken to safeguard the separation often mean more time, travel and work for both members and staff.  

“Knowing any member of Congress, they already have a packed weekend schedule,” said Bradford Fitch, president of the CMF. “For Ryan, it will also include town hall meetings in Janesville, [Wis.], among other activities. He just doesn’t want to fly to [San Francisco] and be away from Wisconsin and his family, but it doesn’t mean he’s not working."  

Fitch explained it was hard to encourage members of Congress to have a better work-life fit and said they should look at their schedules and decide what weekend activities can be delegated to senior staff.  

“We can suggest it, but they are politicians, and they love being out there talking to their constituents on the weekends. The only way to cross things off their calendar is with the magic word, 'no' and members have a really hard time saying that to constituents,” Fitch said.  

And even leadership in Congress is examining their own staff working habits. President Barack Obama has unveiled new overtime provisions, which would apply to more than 5,000 Hill staffers .  

Both Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., have both said their aides will be eligible for extra pay when the new overtime provisions are finalized by Department of Labor are finalized, likely in early 2016.

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