Work/life Balance: Attainable or Unattainable in Current Career Path?

Posted in : HR Updates on 13 August 2012
Nicola Shaw

Nicola Shaw writes:

According to a recent Virgin Media survey, over half of the UK’s mobile workers (54%) think that having full connectivity on the move would significantly shorten their working day, but don’t believe it would improve their work/life balance (source:http://www2.askgrapevine.com). This is supported by an almost identical statistic of 55% of Red magazine readers stating that they want a better work/life balance (source Red magazine, September 2012)

I know that this is a recurring theme for most people and definitely for me, as it is not that long since I last wrote on this.

I know that I really struggle at times with this, particularly with being in a singleton role, as I find it hard to switch off from work. But if I am being honest, I also remember back in my early career when I worked as part of a team and didn’t have the same level of responsibility as I have now, and I was no better “way back when” at switching off from work and only working my contracted hours. So the above statistic is reassuring, in a kind-of warped way to know that I am not alone in being unable to switch off from work when not physically in the office – whether off on leave, in the evening, etc and strive to be better at maintain the all elusive work/life balance idyll.

Increasingly we are seeing a move away from “work/life balance” and a move towards “work/life integration”, where there is a merging of the two, without the clearly defined boundaries usually associated with the former phrase. Is this a seamless merger or is there trouble on the horizon?


How to Manage Ourselves

Technology is meant to be an enabler as opposed to having a detrimental impact on our lives – regardless of whether inside or outside of work. But, I find that I have to police myself during the evenings and at weekends not to check my work e-mails or my work text messages. I deliberately choose to have a work mobile and personal mobile; and yet, I find myself wrestling with my conscience about not taking the work communication devices with me on holidays, or short breaks away. 

- Are you the same? Or

- Have you managed to have that magic “switch” that allows you to clearly demarcate work time and personal time? If so, please share!

As if to prove my point, I am writing this on Sunday afternoon, as opposed to having made the time through the working week. The plus side of this is that I am able to include some statistics from the September 2012 edition of Red magazine, as I managed to flick through this in-between cleaning, baking, training and picking up on work texts. (For those readers of my blog who are in the know, Good Housekeeping is also a cracker read!).

In September’s edition of Red there is an article devoted to “Work/Life” focusing on readers who have a Plan B. 61% of their readers having a Plan B in mind, predominantly because current careers are not bring job satisfaction. This really struck a chord with me, as the article talks about how people want more from their careers now than in years gone by, in part because of the demands placed on us to work outside of the traditional 9-5. 

We are asking ourselves if we want to be still doing this in 20 years' time and if there is more to life than work. With the removal of default retirement age, I think more of us are aware that retirement is no longer as clearly defined and is strongly attached to affordability – as well as on-the-job performance (I’ll leave talking about that chestnut for another day). If we’re going to be working until we are 70, or beyond, then we want to make sure that we are doing something we enjoy; that we thrive on and that satisfies us.


How to get the Balance Right?


That is the $64,000 question.

I think the key is defining for ourselves the boundaries that we find acceptable. For me, when I am away on holidays, the work mobile and blackberry will not be with me. But on a long weekend break, they will be. In part because of bad reception from the provider in my area, a few of the Partners and a couple of colleagues have my personal and home numbers. This way, I know that if people really need to contact me; they can, but that I will not be disturbed unless it is really important. 

I think the key is getting the balance right and trying to look at the blackberry or remote access as a “safety-net”; a reassurance that if we do need to read an IMPORTANT email or deal with an emergency when off-site, then we can. We should not need to rely on it 24/7 or expect that others expect us to be available at any time. 


What is My Plan B?


When I changed my work pattern in work at the start of the year, this was an attempt by me to ensure there was more “me” time in my life and less work and other ties of my time. This meant I had to set and stick to boundaries. This was tested in my first week when a meeting got shifted from the morning, when I was scheduled to be working, to the afternoon, when I was scheduled to be off. I managed to respect my own boundaries and declined attending the meeting. In doing so, I assessed that the meeting was not business critical; that I knew the agenda and so could feed through my thoughts in advance. No-one had an issue with me saying I was unavailable to attend and it helped me to realise that I do not need to be there for every meeting – life does go on, as hard as that is for my ego to accept!

So what is my Plan B? My escapism dream is to run my own coffee-shop as part of a bigger boutique gift shop when I will serve homemade cakes, scones, buns, etc. I appreciate that this may not enable a better work/life balance, but I like the sound of working in a creative environment where I decide what the hours of business are and whether I REALLY have to do something there and then.

This article is correct at 09/11/2015
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Nicola Shaw

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