Work/life balance is given a lot of lip service in the corporate world – but what does that really mean, and how is it played out in the business world?
There are three distinct stages of a person’s working life:
1. The single person’s or young married phase of hard-out, long hours, ‘I must build my career’. These folk are striving to carve their niche and prepared to be virtually married to the job.
2. The mid years when a person typically has family responsibilities and a mortgage. They’re beginning to realise that in order to have a life outside of work they have to take responsibility for it; it’s a very rare employer who will mandate that their staff must have sufficient time away from work. The employee (or business owner in many cases) might not yet have worked out the balance issue, but they’re becoming more aware of the importance of it and looking for ways to build it into their lives. They come back from holidays saying ‘I’m not going to work those horrible hours again. This time I will change things.’ Sometimes they succeed; other times the same conversation is repeated the next year.
3. And then there are the mature years, when a person tends to be confident in their particular expertise. They may shift from one company to another, but with the grey hairs come the commonsense that says ‘I’ll give work my all when I’m here, and my other interests and family will dictate the hours I’ll do and the level of commitment I’ll give the firm.’ They’ve shifted the priority order from ‘work first’ to ‘self and family first’. It’s not selfish. Actually, the person who’s married to the job is selfish – firstly to their loved ones and secondly to the firm, for they’re creating a dependency that can’t be sustained long-term.
Is it necessary to wait until you’re in the wrinkly brigade before you start to get a life? I don’t believe so. Is it the responsibility of the company? Or ourselves?
I was greatly impressed some years ago to come across Daniel Petre’s book Father Time: Making Time For Your Children. (Since then he has also written What Matters: Success and Work-Life Balance.)
In earlier years he has been Managing Director of Microsoft Australia, then a VP at Microsoft HQ in Seattle, and later was sent back to Sydney to run the Asia-Pacific division of Microsoft, finishing there in 1996. Since then he’s started a number of technology companies and is also an investor and philanthropist.
In his early career he was a classic workaholic but once children started to come along he began to take a deeper look at what fathering really is about. It dawned on him that modern corporations are, with a few exceptions, dysfunctional in what they expect from their staff, and especially their senior managers. As a result he changed his way of working dramatically – and yet was still able to hold down very senior executive positions.
He became very concerned about the way so many men have abdicated their fathering roles, some consciously but many because they don’t see any other way. As a result he began to observe and study the whole issue of what work/life balance really means, initially in the context of fathers who miss out on so much of their children’s developmental years. These days, with so many working mothers, his concerns apply to both genders.
Following are a few quotes from his book ‘Father Time’:
- Long hours are wrong hours.
- A rested worker is a better worker.
- Long hours invoke the law of diminishing returns and a shorter life.
- We reward people for the wrong things when we applaud and reward them for long hours. Instead, reward them for doing the job quickly and efficiently, and for leaving work at a sensible hour.
- The job is never done – accept it.
- Work obsession. Men (and women) have, over the last 50 years, created business infrastructures that are anti-children, anti-family, anti-spouse, anti-community, and anti-social responsibility. They work so long they have nothing left to give.
- To use profit as the only measure of success is a very narrow perspective.
I really recommend the book if you’ve ever wondered whether there is a less crazy way to ‘do’ life and also create a good living. He not only shares a great many thought-provoking facts but also comes up with solutions.
It is possible to work hard, hold down a good job AND have a life – but you have to plan for it. Life balance does not happen by accident.
A version of this article also appears in Robyn’s regular NZ Herald Online column