- Title page
- Work-Life Balance Definition and Principles
- Chapter One: Introduction
- Chapter Two: Work-Life Balance Principles
- Chapter Three: Working Together
- Chapter Four: Spotlighting the Leaders
- Chapter Five: Making Work-Life Balance Happen
- Chapter Six: Bringing Work-Life Balance to Life
Work-life balance as a personal issue
Work-life balance or the integration of work and life for many people in senior roles is not a simple formula of time spent at work compared with time spent with family, on exercise, relaxation or personal interests. Hours worked is one of the measures of work-life balance, but not the principal issue for most. Instead it is more about control, choice and being able to match work patterns to their own lifestyle and life stage.
Some are comfortable with long work days, so long as weekends are largely quarantined. For some of those with young children, it is important to be home regularly for the evening meal, and bath and bedtime rituals, even if it means doing a few hours' work later in the evening. For others, sustained periods of intensive work are fine, so long as they are punctuated by significant breaks of real relaxation.
What can make it difficult?
Developing and maintaining a sense of balance is not always easy for people in senior roles. Besides the straight demands of the job, difficulties come from:
Commitment and loyalty
Commitment to the work of their agency and personal loyalty to their colleagues and their Minister can result in senior managers and chief executives knowingly emphasising work at the expense of their personal life.
"I feel torn by loyalty to my CE and the Minister."
Frustration, lack of progress or feeling that the work is not valued
Many people commented that the satisfaction of work going well and the energy that comes from achievement can more than compensate for long hours. So, too, can knowing that the work is recognised and valued. This provides enthusiasm and energy that can spill over into other aspects of people's lives, whether it is family or leisure activities. Similarly, frustration from unnecessary difficulties, lack of progress or feeling that the work is invisible and unacknowledged, also has an impact outside of the workplace. This frustration can undermine a sense of work-life balance as much as, and sometimes more than, the hours worked.
People identified that the nature of some roles increases the difficulty of maintaining a work-life balance.
Some roles are isolated, without immediate peers. The position of chief executive can be lonely. So, too, can being the only Maori in the senior management team with the implicit or explicit expectation to represent all things Maori. The opportunity to link into relevant networks, such as the Chief Executives Forums, is critical for people in these roles.
Roles that garner media attention can make it more difficult to maintain a work-life balance. Media interest often results in unpredictable and urgent demands. The article in the Saturday or Sunday paper cannot always be ignored until Monday morning.
Managers who have come from working in regions commented on the impact their move to Wellington had had on their work-life balance. The direct interface with Ministers intensified the work demands that come from the dual responsibility to the Minister and servicing the business.
Some aspects of technology have helped with work-life balance, but can also make it more difficult. People commented that cell phones, e-mail and pagers have led to an expectation of availability seven days a week. People gave examples of taking a day's leave, but spending a significant proportion of the time on the phone dealing with work issues; of going on holiday, but giving a promise that they would check their e-mails or review that paper while they were away.
A few people commented that communication technology had opened them up to staff putting responsibility back on their manager, rather than sorting the issue out themselves.
"E-mail is a way of pressing a button and avoiding responsibility."
Difficulties accessing the necessary information, staff with insufficient skills or experience, poor communication channels or lack of resources to do the job not only impact on the work, but can also impact on the manager's work-life balance.
Although children can create another set of demands, several of the people interviewed talked of children helping them to maintain a reasonable work-life balance.
"Kids mean that you switch work off. They keep you grounded in real life."
Are the difficulties real or perceived? They can be used as an excuse or a cover for personal choices. Some commented that it had become 'fashionable' to work long hours. Some people take their identity and status from how hard they are seen as working. Some use work as an excuse to avoid the rest of their lives. For others, it is their own expectations rather than anyone else's that are creating the work demands. Most people interviewed, however, felt these difficulties are very real.
Acknowledging the difficulty of maintaining work-life balance is not always easy. At senior levels, particularly for chief executives, there is a strong expectation of highly developed self management skills. This expectation comes from Ministers, their peer group and themselves. Admitting to yourself or to others that you are finding it difficult to maintain a sense of balance can run the risk of being interpreted as a personal failure.
What personal strategies are people in senior roles using to develop and maintain work-life balance?
The following are some of the strategies that people interviewed for this project have used to develop and maintain a work-life balance. Selecting from this range is very individual and personal.
- Make careful choices about the job you take on. Choose work that you believe in and you enjoy.
- Be deliberate in your attitude to work, particularly about keeping a sense of humour and not taking it too seriously.
- Make time for exercise, whether it is walking to work, running at lunchtime or walking to and from appointments.
- Make time for other activities that relax and refresh. This means knowing what you enjoy doing and deliberately making time for it.
- Deliberately manage your diary. People particularly valued the blocks of time they had regularly marked out in their diary whether it was for exercise, meeting their partner or children for lunch, taking the children to school or quiet reflection. They stressed how much easier it was to start a new job that way, rather than trying to change to this pattern. They also acknowledged the value of a good PA in helping to protect those times.
- Schedule holidays and make sure you take them.
- Protect the boundaries between work and the rest of life. The boundaries may be time specific such as never working on Saturdays. They may be to do with place, such as not bringing work home, or only doing work at home in the study, so the door can be shut behind you when you leave it. Or they may be situation specific, such as the phone not getting answered during family meal times. People talked of the need to quarantine their personal time and environment.
- Develop transition patterns or rituals between work and home. These included preparing the 'to-do' list for the next day, organising the desk, walking home or going for a walk immediately on getting home, changing from work clothes or sitting down with a glass of wine.
- Make technology work for you. For some, this is having a computer at home that is networked to the office. For others it means using a pager rather than a mobile phone as a contact point.
- Monitor and respond to your own stress. Experience in senior roles can equip people to recognise their own stress levels, but it can also make them immune to early stress signals. People talked of the need to deliberately monitor their stress levels, and the value of enlisting close family or friends to help.
- Structure the job appropriately. Ensure that there are a manageable number of people directly reporting to you. Negotiate reasonable deadlines. Be realistic and honest about what is and what is not possible.
"You have to know yourself and how to work it."