24/7 Society – How to find and manage balance
24/7 SOCIETY – HOW TO FIND AND MANAGE ‘BALANCE’
by Emma Hogan
24/7 Society – How to find, and manage ‘balance’
Back in 1996, an article in the British newspaper, The Independent, mooted the idea that in future, all work would move to a 24/7 cycle, as businesses stayed open longer, people worked on the move and at home, and technological advances made it more or less impossible to avoid work, even when we’re not physically there. Fast forward to now, and the predictions made have not only come true for most of us, but they’re so normalised that the article seems from a different age, a blissfully naive time before your blackberry was the first thing that greeted you in the morning.Managing the balance when working flexibly, or across several different jobs, can be especially tricky, as the expectations of others regarding your working pattern may not match your own.
There’s little doubt that this blurring of the edges between private and professional lives can have a negative impact, dampening productivity and creating anxiousness and stress if not properly managed. This persistent pressure can lead to a variety of problems including depression, substance addiction and abuse, which can creep up without even being noticed, as anxiety and low level stresses gradually increase over time. According to the Coalition Against Drug Abuse, “The predominant sign of addiction is that you keep taking the drug regardless of the negative side effects and consequences to your life. These effects can involve anything from the consequences to your health to problems with your family and social life”.
A responsible employer will notice and take action if an employee is struggling with balance issues, offering counselling or changes to working patterns to help – but there is also a responsibility on each individual to create and maintain a reasonable balance, both for ourselves and because of the cumulative effect on society of the imperceptible shift to 24/7 working. To keep some balance can seem a superhuman effort at times, but these small changes might help fight the good fight.
Don’t confuse visibility with productivity
The pressure (real or perceived) to be ‘visible’ even we’re not physically in the office, can be huge. Logging into manage and respond to emails at night, taking calls on holiday – there are times when this ‘above and beyond’ attitude is vital, but when it becomes a habit, it can damage. Remember, productivity – the ability to complete the tasks set out in your job description within the time frames agreed – is what you should be measuring, in yourself and others.
To give you a fighting chance at managing your work, you need properly agreed objectives – and to make sure that’s what you’re being measured on. It shouldn’t feel like the measure of ‘commitment’ or ‘ambition’ is whether you’re the last to leave the office at night.
Don’t be afraid to talk to your boss or team if balance is an issue, especially if you work in a role which requires a level of flexibility in terms of hours. The Australian Human Resource Institute, in their publication ‘Global Index of Workplace Performance and Flexibility’ highlight a report from theDiversity Council Australia (Get Flexible! Mainstreaming Flexible Work in Australian Business), which makes the following point:
“There is currently a mixture of arguments and approaches covering both the need to have a flexible workforce (a common employer perspective) and the need for employees to have access to flexible work options (an employee perspective). These are often viewed as two competing‘either/or’ perspectives.”
Achieving balance and flexibility in work should not be a zero sum game – it can be achieved in the best interests of both employer and employee, and a constructive conversation with your manager is the place to start.
Set your routine
If you do work in whole or part flexibly – meaning you can work from home or during your commute, it is important to set and maintain your own boundaries. Choose a time from and to which you are available for calls, tell others, and commit to others to keep within your chosen limits. If you work across several roles, be clear on when you can or can not work additional overtime or take on extra duties. Do not over commit – whilst it may not seem a major issue initially, the longer term damage of persistently missing breaks and rest time can be damaging.
Don’t put pressure on your self
Finally, remember the pressure you put on yourself. Nobody wants to see ‘company man’ engraved on their gravestone, so don’t forget to take the time to enjoy the down time. It should be remembered that the better employees are actually those who have balance – ironically, putting in too many hours on a consistent basis might cause people to question your competence. Be confident in what you’re in work for, get it done, then enjoy the benefits of rest and recuperation you deserve.
Contribution by Emma Hogan
The Independent, ‘Britain is moving towards a 24 hour working culture’http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/britain-moving-towards-24hour-working-culture-1347551.html, accessed 17th June 2014
Government of Western Australia, Drug and Alcohol Office, ‘Counselling Services’ http://www.dao.health.wa.gov.au/Gettinghelp/ServiceDirectory/Counsellingservices.aspx, accessed 17th June 2014
Coalition Against Drug Abuse, ‘How to help an addict’,http://drugabuse.com/library/how-to-help-a-suboxone-addict/, accessed 17th June 2014
Safe Work Australia, ‘Mental stress costs Australian businesses more than $10 billion per year’ http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/swa/media-events/media-releases/pages/mr08042013, accessed 17th June 2014
University of South Australia, ‘Australian Work and Life Index’,http://www.unisa.edu.au/Research/Centre-for-Work-Life/Our-research/Current-Research/Australian-Work-And-Life-Index/, accessed 17th June 2014
OECD Better Life Index, ‘Work Life Balance’,http://www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org/topics/work-life-balance/, accessed 17th June 2014