By Mark Murphy, The Portland Partnership
Work-life balance has to be one of the most talked-about issues in the world of medical sales over the last few years. Everyone’s talking about it – but is anyone actually achieving it?
THE WORLD, not just of medical sales, but of work in general has changed. Our 24-hour, 7-day society means that more and more people have to juggle responsibilities at home and in the workplace. Bill Gates has a lot to answer for: his vision of a PC on every desk started a process that has rapidly changed the world we live in. The new technology that was designed to make our lives easier and save us time has in fact complicated our lives and robbed us of our time. We are now in a society where everyone wants everything yesterday and the word ‘wait’ is almost as unacceptable as other four-letter words!
What are the effects on all of us?
It would appear that many of us are dissatisfied with our work-life balance. More than 20% of us say that work-life balance is their most important consideration when making career choices. In a CIPD survey last year, three out of four people said they were working very hard – and many said they could not imagine being able to work any harder. These factors help to explain the increased interest being shown in the issue of work-life balance, as many people find that work demands get in the way of their non-work commitments. One in five people take work home almost every day, and one in three partners of people who typically work more than 48 hours a week feel that this has had a negative effect on personal relationships.
It’s not just the adults who have something to say about this. In a Panorama documentary shown last month, ICM Market Research conducted an opinion poll across the UK and asked 500 youngsters aged 11–16 for their views on work-life balance. Here is what they had to say:
What does the law say?
Over the last nine years, a lot of progress has been made. In April 2003, work-life balance provisions were significantly extended to cover:
- annual leave
- working time
- parental leave
- time off for dependant care
- maternity and paternity leave
- adoption leave
- right to request flexible working
- part-time work.
What lies ahead?
The Government has published proposals that, if passed, will:
- Extend ordinary maternity leave, statutory maternity pay and maternity allowance to nine months from April 2007.
- Create powers to implement a statutory right to additional paternity leave, including up to three months’ paid leave if the mother returns to work without exhausting her full entitlement of nine months’ maternity leave. How employers will monitor this I have no idea, as most parents work for different employers!
- Extend the right to request flexible working to carers from April 2007.
How are employers responding?
According to the CIPD survey, despite the overlap between home and working life, only one-third of workers said their employer had any familyfriendly practices or support services in place. However, in those that did, the following solutions were identified:
1. Flexible work patterns such as:
- part-time working (most common)
- variable working hours (coming in late or leaving earlier)
- job sharing
- working from home
- annualised hours
- a nine-day fortnight.
2. Other forms of leave, such as:
- career breaks for carers
- study leave
3. Some employers offer extra support through:
- employee assistance programmes
- financial services, e.g. subsidised insurance or loans
- loans or allowances to help pay for childcare
- workplace facilities such as crèches.
4. Encouraging employees to protect their health enables them to deal more effectively with unavoidable stresses at work. Some companies offer:
- information and guidance on health issues
- health screening
- subsidised private healthcare
- on-site exercise facilities, subsidised access to gyms, etc.
What can managers do to help?
Achieving work-life balance for your employees is not just about complying with the law: it is about understanding your employees’ needs and priorities, and considering how they can be met in ways that are consistent with the needs of the business. Work with your team to:
- find out what’s important to them
- find out what your company can do for them
- talk about how you can make it work
- agree on ground rules
- lead by example.
What can I do to help myself?
In our society, success is seen primarily in terms of material possessions and financial gain. It is very easy to fall into the trap of working long hours to achieve a good standard of living – but in the process neglecting relationships, self-development, leisure pursuits and personal happiness. If things are out of balance, it is because we have lost our focus, and the starting point is getting that back.
1. To be successful in your work and life, you must be clear about what success is. Clarify your values and goals and understand that success is not just about income. You might want to start by asking yourself the following questions:
- What would I really like to be and do in my life?
- What do I feel are my greatest strengths?
- What are the three most important things to me?
2. Understanding yourself and what you want to achieve enables you to live a fulfilling life. Look at your beliefs, be sensitive to your emotions, assess your priorities and plan action. It’s time to get brutally honest with yourself:
- How do I want to be remembered?
- What was the happiest period of my life?
- What one thing made me most proud of myself?
3. There are practical measures that you can take to create a better work-life balance. Decide on appropriate changes and start putting them into action:
- Adapt your work routine. To be successful in today’s workplace, organisations and employees have to be open to new ways of working. Notice how new technology and new employment trends are forcing change, and look at ways of adapting.
- Work smarter. A common myth is that the results you achieve depend on how hard you work. However, greater effort does not always equal greater effectiveness. Use your time effectively to delegate, enabling you to switch off when you leave the office.
- Understand change. This can help you to make changes for the better. Think about the changes you could make, the people who could offer you support and the obstacles you may encounter – then take action. Take responsibility for the changes you want, and ask a coach or mentor to help you deal with them.
- Lead by example. Managers are most effective when they act as role models. In this way, they bring out the best in themselves and others. Create a good team culture, coach your team and ensure that they maintain a good worklife balance.
Keeping in balance
Maintaining a balance is the key to professional and personal success. Be sure about what you want, live a healthy and fulfilled life, stay motivated and always celebrate success.
- Keep some time for yourself.
- Look after yourself.
- Don’t be hard on yourself.
It may well just be that the current generation of business professionals are having difficulty coping with change. Those starting their careers do not know any different: the way we work now is normal for them. Gone are the days when we thought we could keep our home and work life separate: we now live in a time when we are constantly accessible. While we cannot necessarily control our environment, we do have choices as to how we deal with it. The only person who can balance your life is you.
Mark Murphy is a partner of The Portland Partnership, which specialises in offering people skills programmes based on accelerated learning principles.
For further information on the range of services offered by The Portland Partnership, including assessment centre design, contact Mark on email@example.com or Susan Glenn on firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01494 670264.