Redefining the Work/Life Balance (p 1)

Hot topic alert! Believe it or not, this is not just applicable to those of us who work. The work/life balance is just as important to those on a payroll as it is to those who dedicate their days to the care of others, and those of us who suffer with chronic pain/mental illness. In fact - and this might just blow your minds -, having a healthy balance is also pertinent to a child's wellbeing.

So, let's address the herd of elephants in the room:

  • Where did our resilient mindset come from?

  • Why are we quick to defend over-working?

  • Why are we lead to believe that it is a vital part of progression in life?

Culturally, us Brits have been renowned for our stiff upper-lip attitude and, more importantly, our resilience. As we have grown up and created our own experiences, we might often note that it is due to our resilient mindset that we persevered and got through. It is actually thanks to resilience that we endured the most trying and testing times in our lives. Whether the results were positive or negative, it has always been embedded in us. It might actually come as a surprise that resilience is taught within the curriculum and is required to be included within lessons. Teachers are also marked on a lesson based on its inclusion - and it's a big tick if it is.

While I appreciate that resilience can be a real positive; it can be highly problematic. It can reinforce attitudes, such as over-working and a lack of self-appreciation. This is mostly the case when our resilient mindsets are not balanced. There is a huge difference between "I can do it" and "I can do it if". Time and time again, I continually see that most of us only recognise a reward when hard work or a brilliant result is achieved. Again, these are both insanely subjective and we all have a different version of what hard work looks like; some of us might see it as manual labour, while others might see it as completing a project. And, I can confidently say, when these tasks - whatever they are in nature - are complete, we know it's time for some form of reward. Why? Because we've always been taught that it is.

So, why are we then so quick to defend this nature of over-working, working long hours or overdoing it with no reward? If the goal is this simple: to finish the job, then the reward timeline is just as simple: I will be rewarded when it's finished. While this is great for small tasks, such as folding away clothing, or packing away toys, the model doesn't fit for long days or monotonous tasks that take weeks to complete. Everyone has had the experience of feeling run down, overwhelmed and anxious; we know that this normally happens after lots of stress with little breaks. Believe it or not, most 15-16 year olds live with these emotions for at least 6 months of their final year in school - and it's really not a good mindset to endure. This is also why resilience is embedded within the curriculum; mostly to help teenagers during their GCSEs, but in part to give them the skills for the outside world. Could you imagine putting yourself through 6 months of non-stop work, stress and worry whilst also having to contend with those nasty hormones too?

Whenever I think about over-working and justifying long hours, I also consider the factor of self-worth. In a previous life as a Secondary school teacher, I worked with young people who did not have a developed self-appreciation or worth. It's important to note that empathy is something that the adolescent brain comes to learn much later on in life, which is often why teenagers don't always see the significance of their actions and act selfishly during their break-ups/friendship spats. If we connect the dots, a lot of us will associate working harder as a validation technique to prove your worth to someone else. It is clear to see why teenagers are also at the centre in this model; they have to prepare for the outside world whilst also completing their exams. We were all teenagers once, and we have all experienced this way of thinking. Problematically, too many of us wait for this self-worth to be acknowledged by people we never get to meet. Often, these people could be on a pay review committee or are external examiners grading final GCSE papers; they are people we could never impact face-to-face.

The roll that self-worth plays is fundamental. We see it and experience it every single day. On a more extreme scale, how many of you have looked at someone and considered them to be a hero? Countless times, especially this year, the NHS staff, frontline workers and many keyworkers have been hailed as heroes. Funnily enough, whenever they have been interviewed by news reporters or local journalists they have all claimed the same thing: they don't consider themselves to be heroes. A good example of this is Sir Captain Tom - he raised millions for the NHS by doing laps in his garden and had only hoped to raise a small amount for them -, in many of his interviews he claims he is not a hero. Why is this? Because we all have the same viewpoint; we are just doing our jobs.

Let's bring it back down to a house by house situation. As I mentioned above, the whole area around hard work is a grey area. Some of us put in the rewards frequent and often - which I highly recommend -, while others of us complete large, laborious tasks and seek a reward afterwards. Here's what I want us all to remember, especially if the days are getting tougher and harder:

  • That pile of washing can wait - you don't need to do it now; no-one is judging you if you leave it a day (or a week in my case!)

  • Feeling overworked and tired? Stop! You need to take a break. If you're gunning for that promotion, or you're trying to give your children the best upbringing, then you will achieve, and you will succeed, but you need to make sure that number 1 is taken care of too.

  • It's all about working smarter, not harder.

Something I was so afraid of doing before was delegation. How many of you are the same? How many of you thought that delegating your workload would make you look weak? Well, I have to make one thing clear. Delegation is your greatest asset. If you are someone who has been striving for a managerial role, then you will know that one thing a manager must do is delegate the workload fairly across their teams. As a manager, you also have to prioritise the most important jobs over the rest, which may involve delegation to get the high-figure earning jobs complete. Does this make the manager look weak? No, it makes them a good manager.

Consider this too, you're a working parent trying to raise your children. After a day of work you're exhausted, but the children are too young to feed themselves and get ready for bed. Do you have to do all those activities yourself when you get home from work? No, you can ask for help. Again, this doesn't make you lazy, it makes you honest. And, I'm ready to bet that you have a whole handful of people awaiting your call eager to help you out. There really is no right or wrong here; you are all doing a brilliant job.

My parting advice is to consider what your personal reward strategy is. Are you finding that you are absolutely exhausted and not able to enjoy the comfort you have set out when you have finished? If so, you should try enforcing a little and often rule for a while. Go and tackle that pile of washing, but have a nice drink and sit down after. Take a break from the screen at work, but go outside and stretch your legs for five-ten minutes. Reward yourself the way your reward your children, eat your greens (small task) and then you can play - pack away the table, and then play with your children.

Kicking the mindset that we must finish every job before we can take a break is just going to burn us out. And we don't want that. This is a vital part of ensuring you have a good work/life balance.

Look out for part 2 on my blog!