It’s 7.45am and I’m sitting in my local cafe devouring a cappuccino (OK, and a gooey, chocolat-ey treat). As a freelancer, and as the word rightly suggests, I have the freedom to work wherever and whenever I want to. Any hour in the day, any day of the week. As I type, I find the noise of the coffee machine quite soothing and the chitter-chatter amongst the customers a good distraction to help me focus on my early morning work.
Over the last few years, and coming from my background in Recruitment and HR, I’ve found myself becoming increasingly more interested in the concept of flexible work practices. With technology so readily available, we now have the potential to quite literally work at any hour of the day – accessing work outside of official work hours, from home maybe. Documents are stored in digital clouds and email and social media can be accessed from our phones. But at what cost to our personal time and lives does this newfound freedom for the workplace come at? The blurring of work/life boundaries and how it impacts our work/life balance is something that fascinates me.
Is work/life balance, that idealistic world we all seem to strive for, actually a myth? Is the 9-5 standard work day a thing of the past?
Technically, one can be plugged in 24/7 – and whilst this allows freedom to structure work hours in the most bespoke of ways to suit lifestyle/personal/work needs, who really wants to be on email at 3am? One could argue that more flexible work practices force us to work harder than ever by making it difficult to switch off and set boundaries? And aren’t boundaries important for establishing time to rest and spend meaningful time with our families without one eye perpetually on our screens/work? Many large European companies have restricted employees to accessing emails out of hours and over the weekend – Germany’s Volkswagen is one such example.
My own ideal working hours are between 6am and 3pm, leaving the afternoon free for study, writing, admin, exercise, and dinner prep. I’m at my most fresh, focussed and productive in the morning (and strongly advise against talking to me after 9pm!). This schedule also suits my home life, as my husband and I get up every day at 5am (he travels to work in Sydney from Monday to Friday) and it means we don’t pass like ships in the night. But how many modern work spaces support hours like this? When 9am to 5pm is considered the norm, I’m already half way through my working day when the rest of the world is arriving into the office to get started for the day. So many businesses and corporations are still fixed into the notion that 9-5pm is best, but does that really suit our modern day lives?
Over work based coffee catchups in the last few months, I have spoken with many of my friends and colleagues with young children to seek their opinion about work life balance. One colleague believes there is no ideal work/life balance; everyone is different and the right balance may alter over time as families grow older and personal commitments change. She chose to put her management job on hold as she raises her daughter as a single mum and now works part-time in an administration function. She didn’t want the added stress of a high workload, endless board meetings and late nights on top of managing toddler tantrums and hence put her family first. A close friend who has three boys aged 6, 10, and 13, has maintained her career with part-time work, very helpful parents and in-laws and a husband who has now taken more of the reigns with their home life. And another couple with whom my husband and I are close, and who have one-year-old twins, have worked out the right fit for them – with the dad able to work from home and the mum’s shift work job allowing flexibility with hours, which also enables her to complete part-time studies.
There’s a growing movement here in Australia where I live with a number of companies popping up and hiring mums seeking part-time work. One of those businesses is ‘FlexCareers’ – whose aim is to connect women with progressive employers who offer flexible work hours. This is so encouraging because I know that many women struggle with returning to work full time after becoming a mother – these opportunities make the concept of work/life balance much more realistic for so many individuals who might not be able to work full time hours but who still have so much value and talent to offer. It’s very encouraging to see this flexibility exists and continues to grow in strength and support – I know that my mum friends are chuffed their needs are being recognised and taken seriously. I’m not sure if a similar business exists in the UK?
For me, I’ve realised that finding my ‘balance’ takes time, wisdom, trial and error – constantly communicating with my husband, so both of us are part of the equation – and honestly, just learning to let go of stress as a result of crazy work days. Kickboxing is my new best friend!
I’d so love to hear your thoughts on this most interesting topic of finding balance in our lives, as we all navigate the waters of trying to suss out what works for each of us in 2018 and beyond. Is work/life balance a myth? Please feel free to pop your comments below.