The work/life balance



At the end of May this year I left MPA International – a company I had been employed by for over 17 years. One of the reasons that I left MPA was a growing realisation that my work/life balance was heading seriously out of kilter and that something needed to be done.
Of course, I am well aware that I am not alone in struggling with this issue: every Monday night I meet with a group of male friends who are all fighting the same battle, and each of us is dealing with it in different ways or – worse – not dealing with it at all.
The phenomenon is also of course not unique to men, although the superior multi-tasking capabilities of women would suggest that they have greater abilities to handle the conflicting demands of work, kids, partners and community.
But is there really a problem? A few statistics may help here:
• In the UK (which has the longest working hours in Europe) we work 1,673 hours per person per year. In the US this figure rises to 1,952 hours and in Japan to 1,801. Norway – at 1,337 hours – is one of the lowest worldwide.
• No surprise then that in 2005, the Economist Intelligence Unit’s quality of life index rated Norway as the third best place to live globally. The US came 13th and Japan 17th; the UK came a miserable 29th.
• A UK City & Guild survey in 2004 found that hairdressers were – of all professions – most likely to be happy in their jobs, with a 40 percent job satisfaction score. After this, satisfaction falls away dramatically, with the next highest being the clergy (24 percent), chefs (23 percent) and beauticians (22 percent). If the very highest job satisfaction score is still only 40 percent, something must be terribly, terribly wrong…
So, in the UK we work very long hours, have a comparatively poor quality of life and are largely dissatisfied with our jobs. No wonder then that the work/life balance is a critical question for nearly all of us. But what is the answer?
One suggestion is that new technology can help redress the work/life balance, but my experience has been that it has only increased my productivity during the hours I work – yet it has not reduced those hours. While new technology has increasingly helped me work outside the office, it has also made it easier for me to work outside office hours.
Telecoms companies suggest that mobile telephones or video conference facilities are a good substitute for spending time with your children. Let’s not fool ourselves; they are not.
I do not presume to be able to give the answer here, but I believe that unless we each pause and think, we will never even approach finding a solution. This review should start with what you have now and what your priorities are. The following, for example, are mine:
1. Kids: If you have young children, your first responsibility is to them. No argument.
2. Partners: They’ve willingly linked their life to yours – as far as I’m concerned, that’s worth a high priority position.
3. Health: If you’re sick with stress, your ability to fulfil any other priorities will almost certainly be seriously undermined.
4. Faith: If you have a faith, it should be on this list somewhere (you may wish to put this higher or lower).
5. Work.
6. Community: We all live in communities and if you have children, they benefit from local clubs and sports facilities, usually provided by volunteers. Why should you – as a family – expect to receive and yet not to give time to these?
Many of those I have discussed this question with have agreed that all of the above are real issues and important priorities, but many are unwilling to address them because of money. The cry is: "I have to keep working at this rate because we need to have enough money!"
My answer to this is to ask yourself: "How much is enough
This simple question is one that many people in business – used to dealing every day with enormous sums – find very hard to answer. I have a friend who is a millionaire stockbroker; several times a year he takes his family all round the world to wonderful locations and luxurious hotels.
Yet his wife tells me that all his eight-year old son really wants is for his father to take him camping.
When I told my nine-year old that I had left MPA, his first reaction was "That’s great, Dad. Can we go fishing now-