The Work-life Imbalance

Let’s talk about work/life and the so-called “balance”. I wrote about this in my last book “People Before Tech” and I am exploring the many possible models that are being trialled in an effort to avoid WFAA in my upcoming “Tech-Led Culture” one as well of course.

That said, let me tell you what brought it back from theoretical to very personal for me.

Over the last few weeks, not only has my 12-year-old had some school issues that need sorting and a trip to London to see a kidney specialist but has been complaining of “face pain” -which is an indication of how new he is to insufferable tooth pain- so we have had multiple trips to the dentist as well.

Now we are definitely lucky because all of my kiddo’s parents (myself, his dad and his stepdad) are in technology and very senior in our positions and have enough days WFH between us to deal with all these commitments and needs. We are well aware of how fortunate and privileged we are to be in that position and it makes me wonder how would a single parent who had to come into the office every day even deal with this short of taking the full day off.

My husband has had to postpone a strategic data architectural meeting so he can take him when I had my publisher come to my office for a half-day editing chat. My ex has had to juggle his ever-growing list of to-dos managing teams of developers when we were too tied up to take the kiddo to the specialist, and at long last, I have had to duck out of important product meetings regarding the new ISO certification testing so that I can take him myself.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t easy or stress-free, when the expectation of 9-to-5 is there (as it is for his dads), the stress is exponential. But it was possible. Doable. How utterly invaluable is that in lieu of the alternative which is either to cut work for the day or ignore your child’s medical issue?

Now - I am someone who had long had to be a primary carer for my brother and mother for years before she passed and juggle an exec career in between. Easy? No. Doable? Yes if you’re either self-employed, your own boss or an executive and I have been lucky to be all of those and be able to do it. That said it was still riddled with stress and anxiety.

I don’t remember one single week of my working life where calls/appointments/deliveries/medicines/etc have had to be dealt with and work was the only thing on the agenda.

Can you? Can anyone? No. We all have families, lives, communities and endless to-do’s. Now again, if we’re honest, the higher up one is in the organisation the more intrinsic flexibility they have always enjoyed so these things are hard to plan and execute but not impossible to slide in. Does it mean that only higher-ups can fulfil their personal lives obligation? No. Everyone manages somehow just at a much higher stress cost.

The 4-days-work week, whilst not at all the beacon of flexibility or ease that some paint it, at the very least offers some time-boxed time for this by freeing up a work day when people can attempt to cram all their allotted “personal to-do’s”

What causes this?

  • The first culprit is the absurdity we battle most at work even if we’re not aware of it - how it has become culturally acceptable to refer to being professional as practically being a robot with no human emotion or needs that are “personal”. The same insane position that all but bans emotion in the workplace. Needless to say this “be non-human, be our “professional;” resource only” needs to be attacked head-on - discussed and banished. Human beings are the sum of our emotions, behaviours and acts, both at home and at work and neither part is ignorable;
  • Lack of understanding and definition of “outcomes-based” - if people don’t have the structure and clarity that lets them know precisely what is expected of them and by when then they will find it even harder to schedule life around work commitments. Needless to say, organisations simply have to do the work to understand what are outcomes, what is individual work and what is teamwork before they can even claim they are doing hybrid forget WFAA;
  • People are afraid to demand the right to juggle their lives as if they don’t deserve to be anything else but robots. Needless to say, I feel it is also our personal responsibility to put our foot down and demand that the above is resolved and that we have a right to fulfil commitments, this isn’t slacking or skiving but purely wanting to be not only an employee but a parent, sibling, carer or friend;
  • A travesty has been made of the definition of “productive” which ought to be “doing all the needed things in the time frame agreed on” but seems to have devolved into “appearing very busy for a certain specific length of time “putting in the hours” and not being outcomes-oriented. Needless to say this needs auditing by the organisation;
  • The term “flexibility” is being bandied around as if it can be redefined as “Allowing people not to come in some days a week” in lieu of “Do this piece of (individual) work whenever you wish at any time within the days or weeks you’re expected to deliver as long as you bring in the result we need”. Needless to say, that needs to stop.

Lastly, we can blame it strongly on being human. That’s the real root of this. If we weren’t and had these pesky lives that inconvenience our resource-owner aka the employer none of this would be an issue.

While I am not discounting the importance of securing one’s job in particular in this economic climate, we can’t stop demanding the right to also be all the things we need to be.

Related: EQ and Psychological Safety - We Need Both and We Need Them Now