Work/Life Balancing Act Part 1

Not too long ago I was in a car with my father dri­ving along Sus­sex Street in Syd­ney CBD at 9:30pm. We were on our way back from the the­atre after see­ing a play.  My father com­mented on a long line of taxis out­side one tall city build­ing whose offices were all lit up. The the­atre we had just come from had 2 taxis wait­ing out­side at the end of the play.  This build­ing had about 12. I knew the build­ing was a top tier professional services firm and com­mented that the taxis knew where to wait for busi­ness – not out­side the hotels or the­atres but rather out­side big cor­po­rate busi­nesses.  Min­utes later, fur­ther down the road, we saw another unusu­ally long line of taxis wait­ing out­side another build­ing – it was the head office of one of Australia’s largest retail banks. Yes – they really do know where the busi­ness is. I won­dered about what kind of expec­ta­tion of work prac­tice exists in these two major cor­po­rate businesses.

That in turn led me to reflect on Be Learning.  I had been working on a medium sized project for a month or so. A major client had commissioned us to design and deliver a project focussing on flexible work arrangements. My involvement with the project was firstly, in researching and writing the case studies and scripts for the forum theatre scenes, and additionally designing and delivering the program. The project’s specific focus was inclusive practices in the workplace and how to manage flexible work arrangements.  It was looking at how their business could create the sort of environment where people would be supported to work flexibly and the advantages and challenges related to this.  It looked at whether their leaders were role modelling work/life balance.  It also examined the rewards and recognition in place to check which people’s business practices were being held up for praise.  It asked – what are the expectations we have of ourselves and others in relation to our work practices?  What is the culture in our workplace?  How big is the gap between the culture we practice and the one we want to create?  The program’s objective was to hold a solutions forum to come up with ways to create the kind of environment where people are supported to work flexibly and where managers can drive the generous policies and targets the company has created to make it a better place to work.

I was very interested to see what would come out of the workshop as I have personally struggled a great deal with work/life balance. I have requested support numerous times from my manager in managing my work/life balance.  I have 2 children ages 6 and 11, I work an average of 10-12 hours a day, 4 days per week and commute up to 20 hours per week. Ironically, I was particularly struggling balancing work and home life while I was working on the project I outlined above which was looking at work/life balance!!  I remember hitting the send button at 4:20 a.m. one morning as I emailed through the first draft of the script to the client and laughing out loud at the beautiful irony.  The relevance of the topic was hard to miss as I was sending through scenes containing characters that were sending emails at all hours of the night.  My colleague and I had an hour long conversation one Saturday morning about the reworked program design because it was the only time we could find when we were both free.  Isn’t that absolutely perfect?  I smiled and promised myself to better manage my time and workload next time while secretly underneath I didn’t believe my own promise.

So why am I telling you all this? Perhaps just to share my challenge which I know is shared by many others. Perhaps I am hoping that we can all help support each other and encourage one another in this balancing act.  It won’t work if only some of us achieve work/life balance.  Our own balance is precariously dependent on others also maintaining a balance. So it’s a bit like a 3 legged race – in order to be successful we have to be in step with each other.

But then again I fear I am being far too simplistic.  I heard a fascinating interview on ABC Radio National a couple of years ago about people’s working preferences in relation to work/life balance.  Some people prefer to keep their work and home life completely separate (Separators). They feel more in control this way.  Others would prefer to mix it up (Integrators) e.g. to look at work emails while at home and look at personal emails while at work.  They feel more in control this way. And others (Volleyers) are Separators for most of the year except at certain peak times when they become Integrators e.g. Accountants at tax time. They feel more in control working this way.  Get the picture? The radio interviewee said that regardless which one we were, it was important we recognise and communicate our personal boundaries to others. I am definitely an Integrator.  What this means is that I really enjoy the flexibility of being able to work from home and then being able to do personal stuff from work.  The danger for us though is that we often don’t define our boundaries, either for others or for ourselves.  The lines get blurry and the balance often tips in favour of work rather than personal.

I did some digging around on the internet trying to find out how Australia is placed to the rest of the world in relation to our ability to manage work/life balance.  I came across a report at Relationships Forum Australia entitled ‘An Unexpected Tragedy’:

The past 3 decades have been a time of unambiguous economic prosperity for our country.  But this success has come at a price. Working patterns have altered to such an extent that Australia is now the only high income country that combines:

  • Average working hours that are at the top end amongst high income nations
  • A strong tendency for work on weeknights and weekends, and
  • A relatively large proportion of the working population employed on a casual basis”

The various impacts cited as resulting from the impact of long working hours, working nights and weekends include:

  • Relationship breakdown
  • Obesity
  • Heart attacks

During the last couple of months or so while I have been especially thinking about this topic I have come across a number of people whose health and/or relationships have been seriously affected by the lack of balance between their work and personal life. That is certainly my own personal experience as well.  Given the seriousness of the outcomes you would assume we would change our habits!

But that doesn’t always happen.

Given my personal investment in this issue I decided to try and make a list of the reasons my work/life balance was out of whack. The logic being, by making myself aware of the reasons, I might be able to start addressing some of them.  I am quite willing to admit, from the position of being my own personal amateur therapist,   that my reasons might not be correct and also that they might be completely different to someone else’s, but if you find some similarity, you might like to join in the discussion or may find something in this article of use.

So, here’s the list of possible reasons……

  • I may be either physically or mentally addicted to work (or both!!)
  • I may lack planning which means that I either have too much work to do in a given timeframe or else I am not working efficiently enough
  • Maybe I am a slow worker and spend too much time attending to detail at the cost of efficiency and budget
  • Maybe work is exciting to me and makes me feel good about myself therefore I work more to have even more excitement  and feel even better about myself
  • Maybe I am a megalomaniac and in order to satisfy my need to control everything I end up taking on more tasks than I should while pretending that I’m not taking on too much so that I don’t have to delegate my tasks to others and lose control
  • Maybe everyone in the company is in the same position as me because we are a growing business and that’s just the way things have to be for now until we get more people and train them and streamline our processes
  • Maybe there have been unreasonable deadlines set – either by myself or others, either internally or externally
  • Maybe I am being delegated too much work by others who don’t always understand what’s involved

So in the coming months I’ll go through the list and talk about each point and see if I can come up with any solutions.  If you have any comments or ideas you would like to be included please send them to me at Claire@belearning.com.au and I will include them.

This post is written by Claire Jones, Senior Consultant, Be Learning