Over the years I’ve watched a lot of videos about work-life balance. This might be the best one I’ve seen, even though it’s not easy to watch.
Did you have a good bank holiday? Mine wasn’t much fun at all. Perhaps that’s why I started to think about work-life balance; the few days that should have been a chance to recharge were actually their own source of stress. On the other hand, even people who have great bank holidays also feel a sting when they end. It got me wondering if these breaks would be less important if everyone was happier at work.
‘I found it quite easy to balance work and life when I didn’t have any work’
Being happy at work is actually really important, not just for people, but for profits. Research has repeatedly shown that happy employees perform better and work harder than unhappy ones. We’ve always said that, quite apart from human decency, this is one of the reasons that bosses should treat workers well. In a way, we’ve said that employers are in charge of happiness.
‘Putting childcare facilities in the workplace is wonderful. But it just means you spend more time at the office.’
In a 2010 TED talk, author Nigel Marsh says something a little bit different. He says that we, not our bosses, have to be responsible for our own happiness. What’s more, discussions about flexi-time and dress down Fridays hide the fact that certain job and career choices are fundamentally incompatible with being meaningfully engaged with a young family. Also – and this is the big one – he says that we should never put our quality of life in the hands of a company. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to this.
As I said at the beginning of the post, it wasn’t an easy talk to watch. He’s really brutal in some ways and comes across, actually, as someone that’s kind of anti-business. But where he does make sense is that we, as individuals, need to approach our employers and say: ‘This is what work-life balance means to me. This is what I need. How can we make that happen?’ If your company is enlightened enough to have a crèche at work, that is a great thing. But does that mean it’s the right solution for you and your kids?
Ironically, the thing that made the most difference to Marsh’s life was leaving work an hour early one day. That extra hour gave him the time to pick his son up from school, take him for a pizza, tuck him into bed, read him a chapter of ‘James and the Giant Peach’ and hear his son say it was the best day in his life. One hour was all it took.
Perhaps we don’t need big changes. Perhaps we don’t need casual Fridays. Maybe all we need is an employer who’ll listen, give us a bit of time when we need it and who understands that, ultimately, if the scales of our life sometimes tip a little more towards life, that’s still going to be good for work.