Fostering Health in the Workplace: Life-work balance
30 April 2007
Antonia Swinson’s talk
We were most grateful to Baillie Gifford for hosting us.
On any given subject, Antonia Swinson can be counted on to paint the broader picture, so in this fostering health in the workplace talk on life-work balance she filled in some of the backcloth.
Antonia began by making this philosophical point: if you cannot make a connection between your spiritual values and your work, that amounts to a major disconnect and will result in your being exploited. Put another way, you will be swept along so much by your work that you no longer have what can be called a life. You will have no life-work balance to speak of.
This is a good place to inform you of a stimulating book Antonia wrote in 2003: “Root of All Evil? How to make spiritual values count” (St. Andrew’s Press ISBN 9780715208052). One chapter is entitled: “The High Price of a Lousy Work-Life Balance.”
Our speaker then looked at the macro picture under three headings: China; India; Poland. What is happening in and from these three countries is impacting our economy, and therefore our personal economic prospects, and therefore our life-work balance.
Picture the scene recently in an Italian square: the huge crowd of tourists was Chinese. As the Chinese economy develops further we will see more and more Chinese travelling round the world. Implications for the hotel trade for a start!
Now to India. That country is picking up more and more off-shore work, and not just call-centres. How many jobs will be left in the UK?
Next: Poland. We heard of the case of the Polish accountant snapping up a book-keeping job here in Scotland.
What does all of the above mean for our unemployed and under-employed people? These would dearly like to have a life-work balance problem but don’t have that “luxury”.
How shall we advise males in Scotland over 50 who, in too many cases, are already looking at unemployment or under-employment?
How shall we advise students who are running up huge debts and looking at an uncertain future? Can they aspire to having life-work balance when they finally land paid work? If they join e.g. Morgan Stanley they have a good chance of paying off their debts quickly, but at what price? Rising early in SE England’s commuter land, breakfasting at work at 6am, working from 6.30am and maybe getting home at 10pm? What kind of life is that?
Antonia then quoted from the above book her very own personal apotheosis. In 1995 she and her husband Alan were working really hard. They were only seeing each other fleetingly – such were her hours and his. In short, Antonia “hit the wall”, as it were, and so much so that she could barely crawl into her own home to relieve the babysitter of their two children. This crisis, though, led to a radical rethink. Result: Antonia and Alan decided to get off the super fast-track they were on, move to North Berwick and “get a life” back – including their family life– by each going for three-quarter time work.
By now, Antonia had us thinking of the micro picture – and not just of her family but of ourselves and our own…She challenged us to imagine our life as being a grid. Where and to what extent does paying the mortgage feature? Childcare? Once you have mapped things out, what does your life-work balance look like?
If things are out of kilter, we are not powerless: we can do something. We can take some personal decisions. We can drop some bad habits and craft new ones. If we are putting in lots of overtime, we can get agreement from our employer to “TOIL” – time off in lieu.
Yes, we can work out what our super fast-track is costing us: childcare, ironing, gardening, cleaning, and also inefficient shopping. Antonia explained the latter concept: when you are continually pressed for time, you don’t make the most economic purchases – there just isn’t the time. And you end up with e.g. several half-used tins of shoe polish instead of one!
We can also revisit the issue of time management. Indeed, we should make it a regular feature of our own CPD. We should regularly review it.
Furthermore, we can help those around us to get a life too, especially anyone who works for us. Rather than taking advantage of them, we should insist they take some TOIL too.
Antonia then broadened out to the macro again. Debt, demographics, land…To take debt first: debt has a bigger and bigger impact on our life-work balance in Britain. The statistics on this shout out at us. If you’re servicing major debts, you have fewer choices when it comes to the number of hours you will work. As a society we are not facing up to the issues of indebtedness. Not even the churches are. But Antonia cited an honourable exception: Credit Action. [It was Antonia who first alerted us to this organisation and Keith Tondeur, their passionate founder. That is how we came to have Keith speak to a business matters audience last year. You can read the report on his talk by clicking on the right hand page link entitled: “Debt”.]
Demographics: pressures, together with lifestyle choices, are making for professionals having no children or just one child. There’s maybe more than a grain of truth in the quip that greeted an expectant wife: “Not another cost centre?!” Are children being seen as an economic burden, a lifestyle inhibitor?
Land: this is a favourite theme of Antonia’s. She referred to the book: “Who Owns Britain?” Do we realise that 99.9% of us in the UK live on 8% of the land mass? More importantly: do we realise that the consequences include heightened pressures on us as we pay off the high cost of housing?
In short, many of us are steering towards or are already in a dangerous Bermuda Triangle of debt, land prices and loss of life-work balance.
But we do have choices, and we can make changes and adopt new disciplines – and “get a life”. It starts, says Antonia, with getting in touch with spiritual values and then looking at our work in the light of these and making connections.
This question came up from our audience: “Do the young come at all this in a different way?” Answer: “Yes”. Antonia’s Scottish Social Enterprise Coalition body is inundated with people wishing to understand social enterprise – business with a social purpose. Young people are not espousing the previous generation’s values and are often far more interested in corporate social responsibility/CSR than their parents. There is a big refusal to go with the previous way.
Antonia ended with these two thought-provoking remarks:
“If you are a manager, lead by example and lead from the front.”
“If you are working inordinately long hours, you are stealing from your family.”
This last sentence may be haunting some of us days later.
We were all most grateful to her for taking time out of a very busy day to talk to us.
For a different angle on the same topic look at the reports on the business matters talks by Chris Horne and Ruth Walker in 2008.