Work_Life_Balance - forn2220h[1]

By Russell Adams, AdMore Recruitment Specialists in Retail and Hospitality Recruitment, Search & Selection, Talent Management and Career Development.

Having just enjoyed four days off with my family and friends, I was struck by a conversation this morning with a candidate who had worked all four days and was bemoaning his lack of work/life balance. What interested me most was his attitude and reasoning. His perception was based around the view that he simply can’t afford a work/life balance – that if he isn’t prepared to put in the hours then someone else is and that the expectation of his employer was to work that hard. He genuinely felt he had no choice.

But is it true, can any of us afford a work/life balance in today’s world?

What does it mean to you?

Firstly work/life balance is very difficult to define as it certainly means different things to different people. In reality, a balance to one person is an in-balance to another and an individual’s perception of this is likely to change over time as they go through the cycle of life. Interestingly, studies suggest that peoples’ perception of excessive work is to some extent governed by their enjoyment and satisfaction. Therefore, if you enjoy your job, you will enjoy working hard. Despite this, I think for everyone there are points where it is felt to be excessive.

However, we had a very lively debate in the office and some of my colleagues argued that for some individuals, career is everything and that they really are not interested in a work/life balance but only in career advancement and progression. We also discussed the fact that it changes considerably during your life, for example, starting a family was a major factor that affected your view on balance. Companies should understand that individuals may be in a slightly different gear career wise during their life phases and think about how they can get the most out of them. Indeed, people in their 20’s may be more focused on their career as they have little family responsibility…conversely, they may be less focused if they have a heavy social life which impacts on their work!

Take control

What was also debated is that actually it is also about life/work balance because to feel that a balance exists, individuals need a sense of fulfilment from their role. Too much life balance against work can for some people reduce personal or emotional fulfilment and the sense of purpose they require. Working hard can be very powerful. When surrounded by people of equal capability it is one clear way to differentiate you and achieve the progression and reward you desire.

It is all about delivery

In most companies and in most cultures, it is often not about how hard you work but what you deliver. That old adage of ‘work smarter not harder’ is certainly true. I often think for individuals it is easy to get sucked into a pattern of working very hard but without taking the time to reflect on how you are going about your role and whether you are actually being efficient with your time. A big factor at play here is peer pressure – often people work unnecessarily long hours because everyone else does. You need to be courageous to break away from the pack (and this is easier to do if you have the results to prove you are more effective in fewer hours!) That said, I think we all acknowledge that expectations on individuals have without doubt risen over the last few years and so sometimes you have to work very hard and long hours to get the job done.

It’s personal

I genuinely believe that many of us focus on our employers when it comes to work/life balance and don’t look in the mirror at ourselves. What is stopping you from being more effective?

How do you need to develop in order to be more efficient and effective at your job? How can you change the way you approach your role in order to deliver more in less time? As we all acknowledge it is often difficult to analyse what we could be doing differently, however in doing so, you will definitely give yourself the opportunity to achieve a better work/life balance.

Decide what is important to you

So many people desire a greater balance in their life between work and home but how realistic is it? Can you really have your cake and eat it. Fundamentally, at whatever stage you are in your life or career, you need to decide what is important to you. For some people they may be able to have it all – maybe this is because of their occupation, maybe it is due to the attitude of their employer and maybe it is because they are prepared to make a greater compromise. Whatever the case, it is down to the individual to look at what factors they can change and ultimately for them to make the decision that is right for their life. Utopia may be out there but for the majority of us it is very difficult to achieve despite the changing times in which we live.

Times are changing

Times are changing but I am still not sure in which direction. On the one hand, many businesses are looking at how they can enable individuals to work more flexibly and often remotely thereby giving more autonomy to the individual about when the work gets done. However, for many the very technology (smart phones, broadband etc) that is supposed to give us more flexibility, actually generates a considerable deterioration in work/life balance, as we are constantly available to our employer. This gives us very little time, if any, to switch off and allows employers to place a greater demand on our time either wittingly or unwittingly.

For Generation Y it is important that companies change their cultures to try and create better work/life balance. However, the juxtaposition is that as a result of the recession, people have to work harder than ever. In many organisations, reduced head counts have led to much higher work loads for the surviving workers. In addition, there is additional pressure because if you don’t deliver or are seen to be working hard; you face very stiff competition from both external and internal individuals.

So what can you do to achieve a better work/life balance?

  • Analyse your efficiency– consider how efficient you are in your role and what steps and actions can you take to improve your efficiency. There are several things you can do to assess your position, with the simplest being the use of a 360 feedback survey. Feedback from line managers, colleagues and your own team will enable you to spot some opportunities to reduce unnecessary workload. Alternatively, you may find you need to improve your technical skills through specific training and development – ask for support from your HR team.
  • Set targets and objectives; work smarter not harder – think about why you are working the hours you do. Is it really required in order to hit your targets or is it because that’s what you feel you should do? Work the hours required to over deliver but not just for the sake of it.
  • Manage your use of Technology – it is here more than anywhere where you need to take control, set some clear parameters and ensure you have a sensible balance. Does your phone always need to be on? Do you really need to check your e-mail every 10 minutes? Make use of your out of office and consider whether to have a separate telephone for personal use.

I am sure there are dozens of other examples and I would be very interested to hear your views.

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