balance.jpgTragic events impacting several families came down to a father choosing his son over his job.

It’s a story that has been playing out in the local and national media for some time, and ended yesterday with jail time for the dad.

devlin.jpgA Philadelphia tugboat pilot, Matthew Devlin, was sentenced to a year in prison yesterday for putting aside his work to deal with a family emergency, a decision that ended up costing the lives of two young students who were on the boat he was navigating that day. His wife called him on his cell phone to tell him a routine surgery on his son had gone bad, and he spent the rest of his time on the phone and sending emails form his laptop, distracting him from his job at hand. His actions that day led to a tragic crash.

In another time, the pilot would never have known about his son’s near-death scare. He would not have been an easy phone call away. But today we know second by second what’s going on with our children, as we track them via text messages, phone calls, email, etc.

And today, the ideal parent is considered one who sacrifices everything for their kids, jobs, dreams, etc. Worklife balance has become code, in some respects, for employees setting aside work for family matters. And this is clearly not just a woman’s issue, as witnessed by this sad tugboat story.

The question is, have we parents gone too far? Sometimes work has to take precedence over our children, no?

That’s how it was many years ago. My father often didn’t make my concerts, or meets, or whatever other kid thing I was doing and somehow I survived. While I know a major medical issue can’t be compared to missing a recital, the idea that we have to handle everything right at that moment is a byproduct of how connected we are today.

As a result, many of us are distracted at work.

“Globally, employees are also feeling more distracted at work and finding it harder to concentrate on the job at hand. In 2011 only 1 in 20 (5%) respondents felt their concentration was rock solid. This represents a score of 4.94 (2011), and a drop from 5.2 in 2009,” according to a study by rogenSi, a global management consulting firm.

And it’s clearly costing more than lives:

Technology company,, looked at the cost of such distractions for employers:

· 45% of employees work only 15 minutes (or less) without getting interrupted
· 53% of workers waste at least 1 hour a day due to distractions- this adds up to $10,375 of wasted productivity annually (based on average salary of $30/hr)
· The majority of workplace distractions now involve either collaboration or social tools such as email, social networks, text messaging and IM
· 2 out of 3 workers will tune out of face-to-face meetings to communicate digitally with someone

Clearly, the tugboat pilot tuned out; and I wonder how many of us do that everyday because of family obligations. I’ve been guilty of it. OK, a writer/blogger letting a parenting issue derail her work won’t end tragically, but there are costs to my job performance and productivity, no?

Many companies have been looking at ways to stop employees from using their own devices on the job. Moves like this can infringe on worker rights, but when you hear stories like the tugboat one it makes you think. The pilot could have gotten a message when he was done with his shift and headed to see his son. There is little we can do other than panic when we’re not with our kids at a moment like that.

His wife now says she regrets having called him. Is there something we could all learn from this event?

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