Posts tagged work/life balance

Making the most of work and family life

The skills learnt by parents as they raise their children – everything from refereeing a fight between two four year olds (conflict resolution) to answering the phone, ironing a shirt and bathing the baby at the same time (multitasking) can help boost work performance and life satisfaction.

In an article with Human Capital Magazine earlier this year, Director of Parent Wellbeing, Jodie Benveniste, says that when it comes to work/life balance, we’ve got our thinking wrong. 

“Work-family balance assumes a scarcity model. It proposes that people have a fixed and limited amount of time and energy.  If work is taking all that time and energy, then family life suffers or vice-versa. But the relationship between work and family is much more dynamic than that.”

Benveniste argues that the concept of work-family balance should be replaced with ‘Work Family Flow’. Instead of working parents trying to ‘balance’ work and family, they should try to optimise work and family.  In other words, make the most of work and family.

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Work/life balance in the new millenium

In the past, I’ve joked about being that person who checks email at 3 o’clock in the morning. I tell people I am available 24/7 and tragically I am.

I did access the ABC News website from my CrackBerry while seated on a Mayan ruin in Guatemala; I do send email, ICQ, instant messages and talk on the phone at the same time with the same person. I have my ‘Learn French, Spanish and Arabic Language’ classes loaded on my iPod along with Seinfeld and The Office videos, Douglas Coupland’s book J Pod and some music too.

And my husband is thinking of taking out a SPAM restraint order against me for the number of emails, SMS and phone calls I make to him each day – usually with the same reminder.

But while this 24/7 connectivity has its upsides, it is also making it harder for us to achieve work/life balance.

While most of us have accepted that 9-5 work hours are a thing of the past, we still haven’t come to grips with how to manage this new world of 24/7 connectivity.  We’re working longer hours, we’re taking work home and we’re increasingly on call on weekends.

The Work-life balance in Australia in the New Millennium report published in April 2008 found that nearly half of the 12,000 Australian knowledge workers surveyed suffered from ‘role overload’.  In other words, they felt they had too much to do and too little time to do it.

The researchers also pointed to an increased use of technology, arguing that “email has increased expectations of response time and availability as well as the volume of work.”

We all know this, don’t we?  But what are we going to do about it, given the serious consequences for individuals, families and business?  People who feel stressed out will eventually feel unsatisfied, and are more likely to take sick leave, stress leave or simply quit. 

While better time management may have some impact on your work/life balance, the secret is finding a space between work and home where a high performance individual can unwind.  Rather than leaving the office stressed out and coming home to yell at or ignore the kids, some time to rest and reflect – whether that’s through the ride home from the office, some exericse or meditation – can help people make that transition between the office and the home.

The key to work/life balance is not to measure how much time you spend in each area of your life, but to measure your level of engagement.  The aim is to be an active participant in your home life, to feel invigorated by your work, and to have time to yourself for mental and emotional rejuvenation.

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3.3 million Australians looking to retire

3.3 million people looking to retire, reports the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

In a report released in November, the ABS says that of the 3.9 million people aged 45 or over who were employed when surveyed in 2007, 3.3 million said they intended to retire at some stage, and mostly over the next 20 years.

Shifting to part-time work some time before retirement was the transition plan for 1.1 million people aged 45 years and over who were currently in full time employment.

The Survey of Employment Arrangements, Retirement and Superannuation provides a picture of the plans that people aged 45 years and over have for retirement; people already retired; the superannuation coverage, contributions and balances of the population; and detailed information about the type of work that people do, their working patterns and preferences, and how they balance work with their caring responsibilities.

Some more of the survey’s findings include:

  • 45% of employees (excluding owner managers of incorporated enterprises) usually work extra hours, but for nearly half of these employees (45%) the extra hours were worked on five or less days a month;
  • 65% of employed people were satisfied with the number of hours they worked, taking into consideration the effect any change would have on their pay; and
  • 15% of employees (excluding owner managers of incorporated enterprises) who provided care for someone used working arrangements to facilitate that care provision, with flexible working hours being the most common.

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Death from overwork

For anyone worried that they don’t have work/life balance, read on…

In Japan, the phrase ‘karōshi’ literally means “death from overwork”.  According to Wikipedia, the first case of karōshi was reported in 1969 with the death by stroke of a 29-year-old male worker from the shipping department of Japan’s largest newspaper company.   But it was not until the late1980s, when several high-ranking business executives in their prime suddenly died without any previous sign of illness, that the media began picking up on what appeared to be a new phenomenon.

In 1987, as public concern increased, the Japanese Ministry of Labour began to publish statistics on karōshi. 

In 2007, 147 workers died, many from strokes or heart attacks, and about 208 more fell severely ill from overwork in the year to March, the highest figure on record and 7.6 percent up from the previous year.

Another 819 workers contended they became mentally ill due to overwork, with 205 cases given compensation. Mentally troubled workers killed themselves or attempted to do so in 176 cases.

The Japanese government has begun to recognise the extent of responsibility that companies bear in overworking employees. On 29 April this year, the a company was ordered to pay 200 million yen (or just over $3m AUD) to a man overworked into a coma.

Makes working life in Australia seem positively laid back in comparison!

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Less help for mother

The Equal opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency says that “One in 6 women reported feeling rushed in 1974.   Seven out of 8 felt life had become more frantic in 1997.”  Here’s another reason why…

An American study, published in late 2006, reveals that women today have much less help with childrearing and household chores than in generations past.

Analysing US Census data from 1880 to 2000, researchers Susan E. Short and Frances K. Goldscheider and Berna M. Torr  examined who lived in the homes of mothers with children five years old or younger.

In the late 19th century, nearly 50 percent of mothers with young children lived with another female who might help carry the load. By the end of the 20th century, the figure was down to about 20 percent.
By looking at the data another way, the researchers found an even more dramatic shift—the actual availability of any females who might live in a house.

In 1880, 24 percent of mothers lived with a female age 10 or older who was not attending school or employed outside the home and was, at least in theory, available to help. By 2000, that number was 5 percent.

This work is particularly interesting, as research on changes in women’s parenting has focused primarily on their increased likelihood of combining parenthood with paid employment, exploring the pressures that result from this “second shift” or “double burden.”

Less Help for Mother focuses instead on the likely reduction in the help that mothers of small children have received as declines both in fertility and the coresidence of nonnuclear adults have reduced the number of other women in the household.

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Work and Life: The End of the Zero-Sum Game

Early January is a time to take a step back and relax.  And it’s never a better time to assess our individual work/life balance.  Some interesting comments from an article from Harvard Business Review, Work and Life: The End of the Zero-Sum Game, that I have been reading:

Most executives still believe that every time an employee’s personal interests “win,” the organization pays the price at its bottom line. They consign work-life issues to the human resources department, where the problems are often dealt with piecemeal, through programs such as flextime and paternity leave

However, a small but growing number of managers are operating under the assumption that work and personal life are not competing priorities but complementary ones. In essence, they’ve adopted a win-win philosophy.

These managers are guided by three mutually reinforcing principles. First, they clarify what is important. That is, they clearly inform their employees about business priorities. And they encourage their employees to be just as clear about personal interests and concerns—to identify where work falls in the spectrum of their overall priorities in life. The objective is to hold an honest dialogue about both the business’ and the individual’s goals and then to construct a plan for fulfilling all of them.

Second, these managers recognize and support their employees as “whole people,” open-mindedly acknowledging and even celebrating the fact that they have roles outside the office. These managers understand that skills and knowledge can be transferred from one role to another and also that boundaries—where these roles overlap and where they must be kept separate—need to be established.

Third, these managers continually experiment with the way work is done, seeking approaches that enhance the organization’s performance while creating time and energy for employees’ personal pursuits.

The three principles lead to a virtuous cycle. When a manager helps employees balance their work lives with the rest of their lives, they feel a stronger commitment to the organization. Their trust redoubles, and so do their loyalty and the energy they invest in work. Not surprisingly, their performance improves, and the organization benefits. Strong results allow the manager to continue practicing the principles that help employees strike this work-life balance.

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Motherhood shouldn’t carry a career penalty

A survey out of Cambridge University suggests that a growing numbers of people are concerned about the impact of working mothers on family life.

Researchers compared results of social attitude polls from the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s and found that in 1998, 51 per cent of women and 45.9 per cent of men believed family life would not suffer if a woman went to work.

This had fallen to 46 per cent of women and 42 per cent of men in 2002, amid “growing sympathy” for the old-fashioned view that a woman’s place was in the home.

It seems that the idea that support for women taking an equal role in the workplace is a myth.  Instead, people’s perceptions are that women’s changing role is having costs for both the women and the family.

While it may be a case of the super mum syndrome wearing office, it is also the case that, until workplaces start to offer true flexibility, women are caught in an endless tug of war between the home and office.  We also read endless reports about how family life, children’s school achievements, not to mention a woman’s leisure time, all suffer.  The result that many women feel that motherhood carries a penalty.

So, what is the solution?  Work and family life can coexist in harmony. I’ve seen it in my own life.  Sure, some compromises do need to be made, and you can’t have it all, all of the time.  But if we are to ensure that mothers realise the same career opportunities that fathers do, we need a seismic shift in attitudes – and that means flexible work options.�

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