Saturday, 5 December 2009

Work life balance

Ironically I've been struggling to write this work-life-balance blog all week, as I have been too busy.

This week work has taken me away from my wife, the kids, my home, my games, flash-forward, and blogging.  I'm sure there is more it's just my mind is so overloaded I cannot remember.

When did we stop being a profession and start having a profession?  Where our life was in balance, as we were what we did - that is you were a farmer, doctor, soldier.  You didn't leave your life and go and do these things, then when finished return to your life.  This was probably the time we started actually having leisure time - so I shouldn't complain, the fact that I had leisure time to loose is a bonus.  Somehow this doesn't quite feel right, perhaps we need a three-day weekend!

I once went to a meeting in London where, Sahar Hashemi, the founder of Coffee Republic was a guest speaker.  Her talk (and the book that she was selling in the lobby afterwards) were discussing the nature of entrepreneurs.  One comment that registered strongly with my perspective at that time was that entrepreneurs didn't "clock-off" at 5:30. If an idea came to you at 6am on Sunday, you worked on it.  Your passion for what you did meant that it pervaded your entire existence there was no boundary.  But don't we need a boundary?  The photo in this blog is me in 2003 on holiday in Ireland, the document in my hand I believe was the monthly management accounts and I was on the phone to Linda in accounts.  I was stood on the fence (not metaphorically this time) as the cottage was in a hollow with no phone reception.  Eventually I had to give up and have 2 weeks off.  It was great and I felt refreshed when I returned.  Lesson learned I think.

Recently with my foray into the virtual, social and professional networking arena with facebook/twitter/LinkedIn I am having the same issue of work/life balance.  Should I have a Chinese Wall between them, should I allow work to drift in to personal?  Should I leverage my contacts? or should I remain in this schizophrenic state of having two separate personalities?  Clearly, I haven't decided yet.  I think I'll just see what unfolds.

Also, I don't think it is wise to "collect" friends and contacts like some sort of trophy.  There seems to be a practice of adding everybody you've ever met, or in some cases just worked at the same place, to your collection of links/friends/followers.  I'm sure this practice will be self defeating as it undermines the  strength of your relationship with your real links/friends/followers.  I don't advocate a set of selection criteria for adding to your list, just use common sense - ask yourself, do I know this person?

Oh no, I've run out of time, must get back to work........


  1. I think the whole notion of work life balance is overplayed.

    Apart from those families struggling to make ends meet, we are all in control of the balance between our home lives and our professions. It comes down to priorities.

    We can chose to live to work or work to live. If money or status are more important then inevitably family will have to take second place, because to be really successful you have to put in the hours.

    If you put family first then inevitably your career has to take a backseat. (Or at the very least it will not fly as high as it could if you are willing to work 24 hours a day and fly to Chennai at the drop of a hat)

    Neither is right or wrong because we all have to make our own decisions about what is important to us as individuals (or family units).

    But when 'entrepreneurs' bitch about never seeing their families - or family men bleat about a glass ceiling - they should actually look within and decide whether they are making the right choices.

  2. Interesting view point Simon, thank you for your comment.
    Perhaps you are right, in softer industries we may have more choice,
    in fact HR strategy is centred around recruiting and retaining top
    staff from a limited pool. Often though, probably not at a major
    pharmaceutical company, the choice becomes, "do the work" or "loose
    the job"! I'd say that it would be quite a rare circumstance that a
    family would collectively choose this. It would radically change their
    lives. So I agree there is often an apparent choice, superficially
    but the consequences may preclude some options for many but the
    bravest. I know a local farmer who works all hours, his family enjoy a
    good living but he has no social life, we manage a beer about once in
    a year - now, he could sell the farm that his family have owned for
    generations but the extended family rely on him running this
    "business". Not sure I'd be brave enough to make that choice.

    I like the contrasting paradigms of "work to live" and "live to work"
    but this just highlights the very dichotomy that I am
    struggling with. Why can't we just live? Probably because we'd still
    need someone to just "work" but hey can't a guy dream?

    In my opinion your comment on bitching 'entrepreneurs' is not right.
    Unless the quotation implies these are wanna-be entrepreneurs, then
    I'd agree. If you get a chance to listen the link to the Sahar
    interview you'll see her describe the difference between employees and
    true entrepreneurs. They don't bitch, they are doers. They have chosen
    to "live to live".

  3. I agree with your perspective on your local farmer friend but that was my point at the beginning of my comment - ie for some people, who are struggling to make ends meet, there is no choice.

    But in the white collar industries I do not believe this is the case.
    I was not trying to single out entrepreneurs, I was trying to reflect the fact that there are different ends of the spectrum and each of us has to make a decision on where we sit.

    I know plenty of people who work ridiculous hours but who are paid to do it and enjoy the (material) lifestyle it brings. Likewise I know a fair few people who leave at 5pm on the dot and wonder why they can't get their next promotion.

    Recently a friend, at my last company, tired of never seeing his family (though he was handsomely rewarded) and made the decision to take a role two grades below his current position. He now earns less but is enjoying his life more. He switched 'live to work' for 'work to live' and is quite happy (though quite a bit poorer!).

    Similarly I know of someone on the cusp of taking a promotion which is really going to screw up his 'home time' but is going to mean a promotion and overall better career prospects.

    I think we're agreed that the balance is difficult, though.

    I agree that entrepreneurs are doers but I'm not sure it follows that they don't bitch. I also disagree that they have chosen to 'live to live'.
    Can we agree that they 'live to achieve' (which is a good thing, I hasten to add, as I sense some defensiveness on your part :-)

  4. I didn't mean to sound defensive, I welcome the debate - this is after all a discussion forum, not just a soliloquy ...... oh ..... may be I should change the name :-)

    I think you present a strong case that 'work-life balance' is just mismanagement of priorities. I understand your point and feel some affinity towards it but I do believe it is potentially an over simplification of what actually can be a complex decision for many. Lets agree to disagree shall we.

    With entrepreneurs, yes ...... long pause .... ok we can agree, they 'live to achieve'. The only reason I mention them is that Sahar postulates that they are a different breed and my interpretation was that they were in some sense at peace with a melded 'work-life'. I presented them as examples of how splicing both work and life (and thus facebook and linkedIn) might work. As the more pertinent issue for me and one I know you are fending off vehemently, is the social/professional networking forums and should they stay separate. Unfortunately I ran out of time to formulate a coherent argument. Never mind.

  5. Yes, the whole Social Media space has complicated things somewhat.
    On the face of it, it should be simple: LinkedIn for professional contacts and Facebook for personal. But at what point can you classify a work colleague as a friend ?
    I tend to use the 'beer test'. (Do I share beers with said person, or would I if they did not live the otherside of the planet).

    Of course this leads to much disgruntlement when you refuse Facebook request and point somone to LinkedIn but I can live with that. Awhile ago I went through a rationalisation on my social media accounts which resulted in some people getting "defriended" (and invited to join me over at LinkedIn) and that seemed to create waves as well.
    Ultimately I'm not sure why I bothered with that as I rarely use FB these days, anyway, as generally I see my friends.

    I'm not sure if this is harder or easier for entrepreneurs. I think we can agree that 'as a breed' they have melded work-life but only in the sense that their work is their life. I guess from that perspective they don't need to draw a line between social/professional.

    Yes 'as a breed' is in quotes and I've been resisting the urger to put 'entrepreneurs' in quotes too. (argh, there I go again).

    It seems to me that the whole concept of 'entrepreneur' is quite shakey. It is a self defining amorphous grouping. Anyone can call themselves an entrepreneur from the barrow boy down at the market to Bill Gates (and people who work in 'innovations teams' in large corporate giants).

    There are no qualifications, just a statement of intent.
    People are entrepreneurs in the same way as they might be "mad and wacky", "up for it" or "nutritionalists".

    I think it is far more suitable as an adjective (with the appropriate ending) than as a noun.

    I, too, ought to formulate a coherent argument on this. But I also ought to get to work :-)

  6. I'd agree with your comments that the concept of entrepreneur is quite shakey. The word simply means "a person who sets up a business". However I would say that it has come to mean something much more than this in modern language. It is synomous with innovation, energy and dynamism. In fact wikipedia says "Entrepreneur in English is a term applied to the type of personality who is willing to take upon herself or himself a new venture or enterprise and accepts full responsibility for the outcome".

    Its not surprising then that we can get confused and I would agree that the(appropriately appended) derivatives are more commmonly accepted usage. Your barrow-boy and billie-boy examples are traditionally both entrepreneurs and the corporate executive wannabe is clearly not.

    True entrepreneurs don't understand the concept of work - according to Sahar - all endeavour blends into one thing for them. Consequently they continue to blend Social and professional networking as they don't see a difference. Corporate entrepreneurial types though I would suspect use social networking tools to expand their networks but still manage to keep a core that is private at "not work". These are the "collectors" of links/friends/followers of which I write.

    I realise that this contains broad sweeping generalisations so please feel free to pick up on them ;-)

  7. Nothing wrong with sweeping generalisations to make a point :-)

    Actually, I've known some very entrepreneurial people in large coporations but they are the adjectives rather than the nouns. Mind you, a lot of what passes for entrepreneur seems little more than 'businessman' (or woman) to me.
    But then a lot of what passes for "Innovation" seems to be just a good idea.

    Ah, the evolution of language.

    I've never been into Coffee Republic (which is odd given my perchant for a nice cup of Java Hydrochloride) so I am not qualified to judge this Sahar person - and I'm not going to go buy one her books because that's how they really make money, selling the entrepreneur dream for £9.99 - however I would argue that it is not that
    "True entrepreneurs don't understand the concept of work", it is that they do not understand the concept of leisure.

    Seriously, if you get stuck with one at a party they'll bore the pants off of you... and you can't have a beer with them without feeling like they're looking at you as their next business opportunity. (present company excluded :-)

    I can out sweep you any day when it comes to generalisations !!

  8. Having run my own business for over twenty years, sometimes alone, sometimes as partner and sometimes as business owner, I have to agree that most entrepeneurs, me included, don't understand the concept of leisure. FINALLY, I have mastered the idea of turning work down. Three of my four children are adults, through school and the youngest is 11. When I was debating taking an additional contract which would take me away from home until 10 pm one night per week a friend asked me,

    "Do you need the money?"
    And I realized, no, I don't need the money any more and I would rather spend more time with my family.

    Most people in developed countries are not barely making ends meet or required to work 24- 7 to keep their jobs. We have been conditioned to believe that if we are not chasing Bill Gates we are at risk of failure. In fact, most of us have the option of choosing how much we want to work and how much we are willing to give up in material goods to work less.

  9. I think you are right AnnMaria, we don't need money. We need food, we need air. Money is just a device we have created to make a concept - value - portable. We believe it so strongly that we are powerless to give it up. Abstinence is practically impossible but we should all manage temperance, this fine balance is one that we all try to walk. My comments about entrepreneurs were meant more to explore the concept that work (or toil/effort) and leisure (or more correctly fun/enjoyment) are not mutually exclusive. But I'm glad you got the balance right and your kids have received more of what they really value.


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