Work-shy Wills or a Prince with a work-life balance?

I wouldn’t describe myself as being especially pro-royalist. I found myself, however, feeling very aligned with Prince William recently when he was accused by the press of being ‘work shy’ and ‘avoiding his duties’. As a father of three young boys, his response really resonated with me; William wants to balance his position with that of being an attentive and present father.

Like millions of other parents, trying to achieve this balance is something I wrestle with on a regular basis. I feel lucky enough to really enjoy my work but if I’m not careful, I can find myself taking on too much, getting stressed and allowing life to become difficult, not just for myself but for my family too.

On our leadership programmes, I frequently have conversations with participants trying to achieve a ‘work-life balance’. It seems that people are working harder, and for longer hours than ever before. Annual holiday entitlement is increasingly left untaken, with weekend working becoming more common. Stress and low productivity are usually the long-term outcomes and I often wonder whether organisations are asking more from its employees or whether people are sub-consciously choosing to work harder.

When I ask people who have children why they work so hard, the most common reply is usually around wanting to provide the best for their family. Then comes the ironic realisation that they’re spending less and less time with those they love. Others, often those without children, talk about their drive for recognition, progress, to build their identity and sense of purpose. It appears that more of us are turning to corporate life to fulfil these drivers more readily than life outside work.

VA programmes sometimes include a session where senior leaders from an organisation are asked to look back on their life and their legacy as if they are about to retire. They are given the opportunity to give advice to imaginary ‘new starters’ or ‘their younger selves’ based on their experiences. ‘Don’t work too hard’…‘Delegate more’… ‘Enjoy life outside of work’….‘Don’t take work too seriously’ seem to be the most common messages. Studies indicate those leaders and managers who follow such advice seem to be more productive, successful and happy.

I don’t believe it’s just about balance between work and family either. To be at my best, I know that I also need some time on my own. I love my cycling and running. They provide a stress release; a time when I can forget about work and disappear in my own thoughts and focus on sporting goals I’ve set myself. It’s widely known that exercise and/or time on our own makes us happier and more productive. After being out on my bike or running in the fells, I feel a sense of accomplishment and calm. It brings perspective on any challenges I’m facing and I feel so much more grounded and resourceful. Apparently, I’m a much happier person to be around too…

So how do we find and hold onto that ever-illusive balance? In my experience, it’s always a challenge. Life is too complex and ever-changing for it to be a simple process, so I’ve learnt not to berate myself too much when I get it wrong. In my opinion, the balance comes down to awareness:

  • What do you really want and value?
  • What beliefs do you hold about your career, home life and time for yourself?
  • Are those beliefs providing you with a sense of balance, happiness and well-being?

Perhaps questions to consider next time you take some time-out for yourself…

Written by Jon Sykes, Senior Consultant at VA.

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