Losing the battle, winning the war on work / life balance
Endless coastlines, blazing sunshine, blue skies, beaches, bikinis and barbies - it’s the legendary Aussie lifestyle. And according to the latest statistics, workers are watching it all pass them by from the confines of their workplace. What can be done?
A report titled Australia's welfare 2017: in brief, released late in 2017 by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), placed Australia in the bottom third of OECD nations for work/life balance.
At least 13% of us - 20% of men and 7% of women - work ‘very long hours’ (more than 50 hours per week), according to the OECD and, more importantly, around 25% of us feel that we are ‘overemployed’, or working longer hours than we’d like.
This is important, because a feeling of ‘overemployment’, ‘underemployment’ or ‘good balance’ relates directly, the AIHW report says, to job satisfaction levels.
And the reality is, if I am happy at home, I come into the office with tremendous energy.
Permanent employees in Australia tend to have an overall job satisfaction rating of 7.6/10 while casual employees drop to 7.5/10. Who are the happiest workers? That would be the self-employed, with a job satisfaction rating of 7.8/10.
Little of this comes as a surprise. We have long known that increasingly challenging and competitive business conditions have altered the demands on our time in the workplace.
At the same time, technology has connected us to our colleagues 24 hours a day. What are the people who successfully manage work and life doing to get around the issue?
Work / life ‘integration’
One line of thought that has been positively reported of late is work/life ‘integration’, as opposed to work/life ‘balance’. This is essentially an open acceptance of the fact that work is an inescapable part of your life and does not suddenly switch off at 5pm on a Friday.
Several high-profile business people have, in fact, admitted their disdain for the term ‘work/life balance’. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos told the audience during a recent awards event that people need to re-think the entire concept.
“This work-life harmony thing is what I try to teach young employees and actually senior executives at Amazon, too,” he said at the Business Insider event. “I get asked about work-life balance all the time. And my view is, that’s a debilitating phrase because it implies there’s a strict trade-off.
You want to come into the office and give everyone a kick in their step.
“And the reality is, if I am happy at home, I come into the office with tremendous energy. And if I am happy at work, I come home with tremendous energy. It actually is a circle. It’s not a balance.
“You never want to be that guy – and we all have a co-worker who’s that person – who as soon as they come into a meeting they drain all the energy out of the room … you don’t want to be that guy. You want to come into the office and give everyone a kick in their step.”
Kristin Lemkau, Chief Marketing Officer of JPMorgan Chase, revealed similar beliefs when she said she is happy to allow technology to blur the lines between work and home, and to use that technology to her advantage in order to work whenever she can.
At her son’s soccer match, she said, when he is on the bench she will catch up with emails, but when he is on the field she will give him her full attention.
That’s easy for you to say…
It’s easy enough for those with several extra zeroes at the end of their take-home salary to preach about merging work with personal life.
But what about those whose longer hours and greater dedication are not necessarily handsomely rewarded? What can they do about improving their work/life situation?
Health Direct Australia, a government-owned not-for-profit, makes these recommendations:
- Values: know what’s really important to you and make time for it.
- Time: keep track of what takes your time away and cut out wastage by, for example, avoiding non-essential meetings or shopping online instead of in person.
- Boundaries: set limits on when phone and email should be switched off and learn to say ‘no’ with confidence.
- Enjoyment: if you hate what you do, no reduction in time is going to help. Look into where your career could move to experience greater enjoyment.
- Finances: extra financial pressure causes great stress. Figure out the basics of what you need in your life to make you happy, so you can spend, and require, less money.
- Relationships: prioritise time with loved ones.
- Health: begin a regular exercise program and go to bed earlier, to sleep longer.
- Downtime: schedule regular time for yourself each week to do an activity you enjoy, or to simply do nothing.
About the author
Chris Sheedy is one of Australia’s busiest and most successful freelance writers. He has been published regularly in the Sydney Morning Herald, Virgin Australia Voyeur, The Australian Magazine, GQ, In The Black, Cadillac, Management Today, Men’s Fitness and countless other big-brand publications. He is frequently commissioned to carry out copywriting and corporate writing projects for organisations, including banks, universities, television networks, restaurant chains and major charities, through his business The Hard Word.