Before I quit “corporate life”, I was typically working 70+ hours a week, so it's no surprise that my work and personal life became unbalanced.
It wasn't something that happened overnight. It was a bit like a splinter in my heel that I had ignored. I found ways to limp my way through my final years in corporate roles, while my “splinter” festered. Quitting seemed like an easy fix, like pulling a splinter out of my heel, but then I learned that it's all too easy to replicate those unconscious behaviours when I started my own business.
I realised I wasn't alone in this quest to find my work life balance. And rather than blaming “corporate culture” in general, I was curious to know more about the larger market factors that have driven imbalance, and what we could do to create a more healthy (or harmonious) balance.
The Big Picture
The Australia Institute estimated that we worked 2.4 billion hours of unpaid overtime in 2019, worth a total of $81.5 billion. This is the equivalent to more than 6 weeks of unpaid work per worker per year - 1.5 times what we receive in paid annual leave time.
These “overwork” trends are reversing the gains made since the 19th century, when workers averaged 100 hrs over a 6 day work week. Not surprisingly, average lifespans and health standards were dreadful. Workers campaigned, with the support of enlightened industrialists, emerging political parties and social institutions, and the 8 hour working day became the norm by the early 20th century in the developed world. Workers became better educated, technology improved and nearly all of us became much healthier, safer, longer living, more productive and better paid. So why do we seem to be slipping back towards “the bad old days” ?
In short, there have been three megatrends that are causing a significant impact on our work life harmony. If we do not recognise and respond to these trends, unpaid work will continue to silently cannibalise our personal lives.
Market Disruption: The New Value Proposition
We have seen an exponential growth in market disruption over the past 10 years, through accelerating global trade, education and technological change. There will not be one industry that has not been disrupted by the end of the 2020s. Customers are getting much more value, but business revenue and paid employee productivity growth have both slowed in much of the developed world - and real wages growth has slipped even more.
This great rate of change has seen once profitable Institutions suffer, forcing them to lower costs, increase productivity of their teams to try and offset declining profit margins.
Deregulation of Employment & The Rise Of The Gig Economy
Digitisation is predicted to make 40% of Australian jobs redundant by 2025, and others less secure. Today, 40% of Australia’s full time employees feel that their jobs are not secure. And insecure workers are more likely than not to give away unpaid hours, in the hope that this gift of effort will be rewarded by loyalty from their employers.
Digitalisation & Online Behaviours: Business Never Sleeps
Businesses are increasingly embracing the digitisation of physical activities to improve business efficiency and keep up with market changes. Moore’s Law predicts that every year the processing power of information doubles, creating ever-more information, which actually creates more tasks to be done with that data in a finite time period. So while many tasks are becoming easier, there are now far more of them to do in a given day, and more meetings to discuss them - especially when we are increasingly working from home.
Eventually most “knowledge workers” that now dominate today’s job numbers will multitask outside paid working hours just to keep up with all that information, in a sped-up, hyperconnected global community that exists 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Bucking The Trend: 7 Tips to Create Work Life Balance
It may seem like the trends are against you - because they are. And it might be tempting to escape to a hippy commune in Byron Bay and trade coconuts, in the hope you can avoid this pain.
However, there is a way to navigate this fast changing world. And I have now found a work life harmony that means I don’t live for what’s left of my weekends, or count the days to my next holiday.
- Define Your Personal Value Proposition - and Use It: Whether you are an employee or a business owner, you must remain relevant by providing value. If you are incrementally working more hours for the same money, you have probably not defined your unique value proposition, and you are certainly not making it work for you.
- Pick Winners: You may be looking to be the “disruptor” of an archaic or declining market, but if not, it's vital to find the markets that best align to your value proposition and where you can provide long term value to each other.
- Schedule the Work, Not the Hours: The “old me” had a habit of starting work at 7am, finishing at 6pm, then logging back on again for another 2-3 hours after dinner was done. Now I work out my tasks for the week ahead, allocate a timeslot in my diary for each task, and not work past those periods. Curiously, I've actually become more effective in less time.
- Schedule Leisure: If you are a “recovering workaholic” like myself, cutting back work hours can be a confrontational moment. You too may have a void in your personal life and the temptation is to fill it with workaholic tendencies. So make sure you spend at least 2-3 hours a week just for yourself - no choirs - enjoying nature at a slow walking pace, as a counterweight to work. These times make me a better human (and husband, father, son and friend).
- Break Up the Five Day Work Week / 8 Hr Work Day: Quite often I work mornings and take the afternoon off to spend with my family, or vice versa. If I do this once or twice a week and on different days, it feels like a nice break to the week and a break from monotony.
- Put Yourself First and Your Customers Will Follow: “The customer always comes first” was my mantra. However, I have learnt that I have put an unrealistic amount of pressure on myself to deliver. Now I have learnt there is nothing wrong with providing extra time in my delivery - in fact it allows greater quality. If your boss or client is too pushy about the time you take to do a good job, they are probably not the right boss or client to work with. It's a big shift in thinking.
- Unplug: Set periods of time where you will completely disconnect from social media and emails. I typically don't read or reply to emails between 5pm and 7.30am the next morning - I know my mind needs the break. I’ve learnt there is very little benefit with an e-mail reply during that time period, for either myself or the recipient..
I know - It all seems logical and simple..! But it took me a good two years to change my old behaviours into these, so be gentle on yourself as you try different things and see what brings YOU harmony.