Your right to partyIs work turning us into absent parents?
A friend of mine – an HRD of a financial services company – has a photo of her children on her desk. There’s a slogan engraved around the frame: Work will always be here; they won’t. She says that people have been known to read that slogan and completely lose their train of thought.
Well, it appears that many of us are caught in that family/work conflict. New research confirms that people in Britain are worried about losing touch with their family lives. They’re missing their kids’ birthdays, school plays, parents’ evenings and award ceremonies, all because of professional demands.
A survey of 2,000 working people in the UK, commissioned by staffing app Coople, shows that 11% believe working late and ‘not switching off’ has distanced them from their offspring. One in five parents say their work schedule has made them miss an important moment in their child’s life, such as a birthday party (8%) or an important school event (12%)
Yes, children’s parties can be dismal affairs. There’s screaming, fighting, sickness – and that’s just the parents boozing in the utility room. But annoying though they may be, there’s an unavoidable truth about (say) your child’s fifth birthday party: it’s the only fifth birthday party they’ll ever have.
Jacques de la Bouillerie, MD of Coople, says: ‘It’s sad to see people are missing their kids’ birthdays and important life events as a result of rigid work arrangements. These are once-in-a-lifetime occasions, so companies should be doing their best to make sure their staff are getting sufficient time off to spend with their family, friends and partners.’
Well, yes – flexibility is a good thing when it’s possible, and you’d expect the MD of an on-demand staffing solution to take such a line. (This article, incidentally, makes a humorous point about when flexibility at work might by necessity be off the cards.) But even when flexibility is available, one expert suggests that it’s still not easy to have your birthday cake and eat it.
Oliver Black is director at My Family Care, a business that supports working parents. It’s best not to think in terms of a flat, continuous balance between family and work life, Black says: better to get used to the idea that they’ll alternate in terms of ascendency.
‘I often think of trench warfare when it comes to balancing work and family. It’s all about the back and forth. Both sides will suffer losses at some point, but as long as one side isn’t constantly winning and both experience temporary surges of dominance, the balance remains. It’s about looking at the balance on a wider, long-term scale. Are you making sure that you’re giving both sides an equal look in over a year or more? If the answer is yes, you’ve achieved a fluid, yet equal, work-life arrangement.’
In other words, take a long-term view and stop stressing out about it every week.
Sometimes, it’s hard to tell where the stress is coming from. Are you being hard on the family because you’ve crashed that project at work? Or have you crashed the project because, say, you’re worried about not getting darling daughter into that dream school?
‘For parents, their role at home can present itself as stress in the workplace,’ says Jamie Mackenzie from Sodexo Benefits and Rewards Services.
This stress can have a domino effect. ‘A distracted manager can affect others and reduce the overall productivity and motivation of their team.’ One upset manager, and suddenly others are falling faster than members of the shadow cabinet.
Solutions? ‘Managers must offer an open line of communication to identify and tackle any source of increased pressure on members of their team,’ offers Mackenzie. ‘Businesses should also implement basic flexible working capabilities and consider offering childcare vouchers to support the financial aspect of parenthood.’
Mackenzie also suggests more innovative solutions such as a buddy system in which existing working parents mentor other parents back in work after maternity or paternity leave.
‘This will reinforce the feeling of support from the employer and offer an additional line of communication to address any stress-inducing factors,’ he adds.
We also caught up with a cabal of wellbeing experts (is there a better collective noun? Answers on a postcard, please) and invited their thoughts on the family-work balance.
‘We work so hard to provide for our family, and yet we leave out the biggest provision of all, and that’s giving them our time,’ says Emma Fairclough, a mindfulness facilitator and the founder of Soulcy.com. ‘No matter how modern and digital this world is, the most important thing in your children’s life is still you. You know you’re working too hard when you miss your kiddy’s birthday more than once. Once is a mistake, twice is a danger sign and more than three times is just work-life balance gone crazy.’
People who neglect family are probably neglecting other serious stuff too, Fairclough adds. ‘When we don’t put family first, it’s likely we’re not putting our health first, either. So re-arrange your last meeting today and go home on time to surprise your family. I promise you everyone involved will actually feel like Christmas has come early. You included.” OK, Emma: will do.
Pip Robert is a yoga teacher who’s worked with the rich and famous through her yoga practice. She’s launching The Happy this September, a business that brings wellbeing tips to London’s workplaces. Her point is that sacrifices don’t always feel good, which should offer a clue as to their desirability.
“Finding yourself sat in an airport in another country on a Friday evening, having been in 14 hour days for the duration of the week, having left your home the Sunday afternoon of the previous week really bites hard when it’s one of your best friends’ hen-dos and you’re watching pictures trickle in through social media,’ she says. ‘At the end of the day, the money doesn’t ease the guilt of missing out on the celebrations of those that matter.’
Kate Taylor, an empowerment and creativity coach, says she’s seeing an increasing number of clients whose personal lives are hitting the skids. ‘They’re on the edge of physical, emotional and mental burn out because they spend more time at work, or thinking about work, than anything else in their lives,” she says.
Ebonie Allard, a business coach and ‘entrepreneur enabler’, has noticed an underlying dynamic: that in many places a macho, or even masochistic, culture is prevalent. ‘The glorification of busy, and the ‘Top Trumps’ if I stayed later or I missed out on more than you for the cause – that’s got to stop,’ says Allard. ‘How would life be if instead being efficient, working smart instead of hard and making it to all your family and social events instead became a badge of honour?’
But maybe – maybe – that culture is waning. ‘I think there is a turning tide. I foresee more and more people making a stand and choosing to exchange value for money, instead of time for money. If you’re thinking about the hours you are putting in, I urge you to instead think about the value you provide and how much more value you will be to your company if you are a happy, healthy human.’