Work-life balance is an EU policy priority. In France, the state provides in-home childcare for working mothers and even housekeeping for new parents! While the Nordic countries famously offer even more support for dual-earner families. Yet with the realities of our economy, how do we deal with this conflict?
Research into this topic dates back to the 1970s and it was not only executives who were battling with this. Early research talks about the struggle of working shifts and its impact on family life.
The research moves into the eighties where economies again started to boom and corporate America’s high-level execs were burning out. Then came ‘yuppie flu’ and more burn-out; divorce rates soared – many citing work-life imbalance as the reason.
Then came the age of the virtual office and the struggle (as the kids say) got REAL! Many employees battle to switch off devices which keep them connected to the work environment and feel the need to respond to communication as it comes through.
On the other side of the coin, many employers expect employees who have virtual offices to be always on resulting in the concept of office hours disappearing completely. Furthermore working in a global village, needing to be flexible, adaptable, competitive and available at all times, how does one strike the balance?
Related: Building Real Work Life Balance
I caught up with life coach, Michelle Bennetts – Master Coach and Trainer at Inner Life Skills – to ask an expert’s perspective on this imbalance.
“When I work with my executives on work-life balance, one of the primary factors we look at is FOCUS. If I am unable to separate my work focus from my life focus, balance can never be achieved. It’s about being present in the moment. When I am at work, I am focused on tasks and achievables. When I am home, I am focussed on my rest and relationships. When I am resting, I am focused on creating a quiet mind.”
I asked Bennetts why she thought people are spending more time on their work and less on themselves, she couldn’t answer in general terms; instead she referred to a tool that she uses, the Enneagram when she coaches executives.
This is a model of human personality which is basically a typology of nine interconnected personality types which result in specific behaviour patterns.
“Different personality types are driven to overwork for very different reasons. Some do it because they get a sense of achievement, others because they enjoy taking control and leading others, others may even be driven to it because they enjoy the appreciation of others, others may be driven for the mere fact that security and financial stability are what they’re after.”
What she could say generally, is that for the most part, we are all getting something out of overworking that makes us feel good, secure and appreciated.
A great step towards self-awareness and balance is to acknowledge that we can achieve these things inside of ourselves and that external forces do not quantify our value or worth.
So does it come down to being able to set boundaries and say no when excessive demands are placed on our time? “It’s all about capacity,” says Bennetts.
“All of us find it difficult to say ‘no’ and this can be a career-limiting move the higher up the ladder we climb. In order to set boundaries, people need to be able to clearly articulate what they have on their plate and acknowledge the actual time one’s current workload absorbs.”
She advises employees to show evidence of workload and time availability and negotiate with employers as to where additional workload can be included. If the workload is truly full and there is little or no space for new work, it may be that something less important needs to be shelved while the new priority is taken on.
Research into handling this conflict from an employer’s point of view has suggested flexible work hours, compressed work weeks (employees work a full week’s time in just four days), working from home, job sharing, family leave programmes, onsite childcare and more. Many enterprises are already offering these benefits, but we need to be realistic about our expectations and boundaries.
At NATIVE VML, we offer many of the above means to handling balance. We’ve recently trialled a dedicated space for parents who need to bring their child to work in a childcare emergency. So far, the initiative has been very well received by parents of young children as it’s offered them the flexibility to bring a child to work, when working from home has not been practical and their childcare plans have fallen through.
We try to pay particular attention to prioritising tasks, using the urgent/ important matrix. It’s not always easy when multiple clients have competing deadlines. We continue to search for ways to help our people cope better with the pace of a digital, client-facing business.