My company wasn’t in it.
Apparently in the UK, companies don’t have a great reputation; we work some of the longest hours in Europe and 25% of professionals are dissatisfied with how much time they spend at the office.
And thinking about my own organisation, I guess this is exacerbated by working in a service industry which is demand-led by public need, and therefore unpredictable – when people need help, you can’t just up sticks and leave them stranded because your dinner’s on the table.
How do you find that balance between loving spending time doing your job, and spending too much time doing it? Are these polar opposites of a work-life continuum really mutually exclusive of each other? And conversely, how do you prevent yourself falling into the trap of becoming so exhausted or disgruntled by the effort you’re putting in that before long you can hear yourself saying, enough is enough – I’m working 9-5 in future, and not a minute more?
Well sometimes, life throws the unexpected that adds perspective; we see things suddenly through a different lens, possibly because of a significant event (happy or otherwise) that allows us to restock and take charge once more. For some it’s when a re-focus on health is required; for others it’s a change in a personal relationship that causes us to want to spend less time at work; and occasionally our hand is forced by change that is done to us – perhaps a
restructuring or redundancy situation.
And of course, you might think that our approach to work is influenced by the differences between our working groups – Baby Boomers, Generation X or Millennials – with a potential disconnect between them in terms of work ethics. You know the score . . .
- I’m a Baby Boomer – quite simply, I’m driven. You’ll find I’m the first to arrive and the last to leave. Yes, I work long hours . . . I invented the 50 hour week.
- I’m Generation X . . . you can trust me to see that project through on my own; I have a strong work ethic, but I’m also highly committed to my family and lifestyle, so please give me the flexibility that acknowledges that.
- I’m a Millennial (you might know me as Generation Y) . . . well, I can do just about anything; I’m no stranger to social networking, and I want you to notice me and let me know how well I’m doing – some might call that high maintenance, but I just see it as good communication.
Of course, regardless of which generation we most identify with, or where others might pigeonhole us, I guess we’re all faced with many real challenges we need to overcome to get the balance right.
Challenges like these . . .
Technology, and yes, you know that I love it, but . . . do you ever switch off? Well why do you need to, or would you ever want to, in a world where email, voicemail, home phone, work phone, VPN, desktop, laptop, thisbook or thatspace are available 24/7, wherever in the world you travel. Surely you’re always available?
And what about those intrinsic factors, the feelings trapped deep inside you that keep you working late nights or into the weekend when others have gone home? Maybe you’re new to the job and feel you need to prove yourself?
And the best one (and a not uncommon argument I hear frequently) is from truly excellent people who simply feel they’ll get found out if they don’t keep pushing themselves just that little bit harder, and put in the long hours they think are expected of them.
So, work-life balance. The phrase itself always makes me think that there’s a choice to be made, of choosing work over life (bad?) or life over work (good?).
But I’d like to offer the idea that work and life don’t have to be diametrically opposed – we can have both if we get the equilibrium right.
And to achieve this, and leaving aside all the external factors that can, admittedly, get in the way (yes, I realise it’s not a perfect world), there are things we can put into place to make sure we’re happy on both sides. OK, I confess to not yet self-actualising in this domain – I find it as hard a balance as the many people I coach around better management of time and prioritizing – but here are some things I’ve found that can help:
- A good fan club – at home (family and friends) and at work (your team, your colleagues, your managers)
- Self-awareness – what’s driving you, what are your values, what’s really important to you?
- Making sure you’re in the right job – if you constantly hear yourself complaining or saying you hate where you’re working, maybe it’s time to be brave enough to move on
- A strong relationship with your boss – oh, the ability to manage upwards, and occasionally the courage to say no is so healthy, but so often overlooked
- Positivity – could your glass be a little more half full please, even if just for today?
- Acknowledge your stress, and spend some forced time in recovery – avoid burn-out, the point of no return
- Learn to love your kitchen . . . it’s a great place for working from home
And remember . . . if your organisation’s IT policy is to switch off your desktops at 19:00, there’s probably a very good reason for it.