Best Practices for Dual Career Households

On Valentine’s Day, we often think about the status of our current relationships or our desires for future relationships. Rarely, though, do we think about those things in terms of the practical elements that help us incorporate our relationships into other aspects of our lives such as our careers. In real life, though, we can all see how our personal and professional lives overlap and affect one another.

In many modern American households, both members of a couple work in order to support their family or lifestyle. A Work and Family Study conducted by Colorado State University looked at couples and families who have found successful ways to balance these two sometimes-competing interests, and they identified some important trends.

You don’t have to read all of the research yourself*. We can give you an overview of a few of the “best practices” that were identified by the couples in the study.

Flexible work scheduling or nontraditional work hours: Some people find it easier to enjoy afternoons and evenings with their families by scheduling overtime for early-morning hours. Others achieve similar results by working long shifts on fewer days or by taking late or overnight shifts. Many successful dual-career households complete some portion of their weekly workload at home; this may involve partial or full-time telecommuting, but sometimes it is as simple as leaving the office on time and completing overtime work at home.

Professional and job autonomy: Working for a company that allows its employees to work independently or to take personal time away from work helps parents to attend school events or care for children who are ill. Supervisory or management positions (including self-employment) often allow the freedom to create work schedules around personal needs.


Supportive colleagues, supervisors and subordinates: When company or departmental culture supports family involvement, employees are re-energized by their increased presence in family life. At the same time, the employers experience the benefits of increased productivity and higher levels of commitment from their workers.


Setting firm boundaries around work: Explicitly stating that family is the top priority and agreeing to specific boundaries with supervisors are two effective strategies to maintain balance between work and family. Some positions can grow with time as more responsibilities are added; setting the acceptable limits to your set of professional duties may mean trading career advancement in favor of additional family time.

Clear parenting strategies: Parenting is a difficult endeavor all on its own. When attentions are divided between work and home, couples find easiest to balance when both parents agree on their values, work as a team, and make themselves available to their children.


Sharing household responsibilities: The most successful dual-earner couples share responsibilities at home. This can range from housework and childcare to decision making and finances. These items don’t have to be strictly divided 50/50 between partners, but many couples report less strife when both parties have some input and engagement in all home affairs.


Communication: Supporting one another’s goals and priorities is an important part of a relationship. Expressing care, concern and appreciation can show your partner that his or her career and interests are important to you. Mutual respect and commitment to working through challenges are also identified as key emotional factors in a successful partnership.


The areas where work and family intersect can be difficult to navigate. If you would like help balancing those two aspects of your life, JFCS can work with you on a wide variety of career management and family issues.

Our Career and Workforce Development department understands the complexity of dealing with individual career changes as well as where a couple’s respective career issues interact and present more complicated challenges. We offer individual coaching, and we also have a Dual Career Counseling program for spouses and partners.

Our Family Services staff understands the wide range of challenges that can arise in all stages of life. We offer a range of counseling and therapy services for individuals, couples, and families.


* We won’t make you do it, but if you’re actually interested in reading the full research papers, you can find links to several published articles from the Colorado State University Department of Development and Family Studies.

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