"24/7 working should be about the economy
as a whole
- it's not
a requirement for your daily life."
Good advice, but something that 21st century
flexible workers may be inclined to forget when the office is on the network
and work can be wherever they are.
It's one of the main concerns expressed when we
run Flexibility events - that taking work home, or
taking the technologies for work home - can mean that you never
switch off. There's always the temptation to check the
emails last thing at night to see if you got that urgent reply,
or to start on the report over breakfast to make a flying start
to the working day.
Mobile phones, Blackberries, tablets and laptops
go everywhere with you - to parties and on holiday too.
The world will fall apart if you're not on the end of the line,
And when you put down the work and should be
relaxing, you find there are two extra members of the family
party accompanying you everywhere - Stress and Guilt.
Guilt that you're not working, plus guilt that you're not giving
family life your full attention.
How has this come about?
We know that one of the benefits of flexible
working is increased productivity. Increased productivity
from flexible working is about working more effectively, not
about working longer.
However, flexible working has been a developing trend at
a time when there is another dominant trend in the workplace -
the Long Hours Culture.
British workers apparently work the longest
hours in Europe - four million of us work more than 48 hours per
week, with 1 in 6 working more than 60 hours per week. The
average is 43.5 hours: 4 hours more than German workers, and 5
hours more than the French. And are we any more
productive? Not according to official figures.
Now we have the tools to take the long hours
culture home with us. We have the opportunity of finding a genuine work-life balance by eliminating wasteful
travel time and creating an efficient working environment away
from the office. But all too often endless work becomes an intrusive and disruptive
element at home.
Apart from the "long hours culture", another key
driver of 24/7 working is information overload. We seem
to have far more information at our fingertips, largely due to
the ease of making it and sending it to everyone we possibly can.
Of course a lot of it is useful, and where would
the "Knowledge Economy" be without it? But a lot
of the information we receive and share is of no or minimal
value. And getting through
it is so time-consuming!
We tackle the email mountain at midnight for the
same reason as people climb Everest - because it's there.
The difference is that unlike the email mountain, Everest
doesn't get higher if you don't climb it.
How to restore the balance
Here we present some Flexibility
tips on how to restore the balance.
Deal with the Guilt!
Guilt is the spectre at the feast, the
ghost holding out the laptop to you, saying "You didn't finish
that report!" "The whole team is waiting for your input" "You're
the only person who can deal with these customer queries".
Here are some ways to deal with it:
Make rules, and let people know about them.
Like: you can be called at this time, but definitely not at
those times. You won't ever switch on your
computer/Blackberry on a Saturday/after 7pm/before 8am, etc. And
stick to the rules, without sounding churlish or unhelpful.
Of course, if you want time out during normal hours, you need to
allow for some work being done at other times. But not at
all the time.
Enable/empower other people to do your work
This is key to having a good holiday, and it's also useful in
dealing with work crises. It's amazing how many people
work on holiday simply because they are deemed to be the only
person who can do often quite routine tasks. Why feel
guilty about not doing work when someone else could cover for
Drink - or something
When you feel the demon work-guilt approach, don't sneak out of
the party - have another glass.
Well, it doesn't have to be a drink. It's about letting
go, and letting any thought of work act as a spur to have some
fun instead. The options are many.
Improve your time management
This is often less about managing your time
"after hours" than in managing your regular working hours more
effectively. Like we tell our kids: "get as much work done at
school as you can, and you'll have more time to play in the
Why do we let work spill over the boundaries and
upset the balance? Partly it's high workload, for sure.
But that's not 100% of the reason. A key part of it is
because time "at work" during regular hours is not used as
productively as it could be.
Key timewasters are:
unnecessary travel (especially to pointless
chit-chat (including moaning about difficult
journeys to pointless meetings)
that colleague who can never make a decision or
has to consult you on every comma and apostrophe
constantly checking emails as a distraction from
No doubt you can add to the list. The point is
that the solution to work spilling over its designated hours is
mostly about tackling wider productivity issues.
Celebrate your love of your work!
It may be time for a true confession. Many
people actually work long and additional hours because they want
to! But it can be hard to admit it. You really want
to bury yourself away in the den and not play with the kids?
Yes! You'd rather burn the midnight oil than climb into bed with
the one you love?
Well possibly on occasions you might make this
choice, or bring your laptop to bed for a threesome. You do this
because you love your work, or you're committed to delivering
the highest quality product. Celebrate it! Your
loving partner will understand, and hopefully will still be
there in the morning.
Everyone will be able to handle it better if
they know what the deal is, and the stress levels will go down.
Unless you do it every day, in which case expect the divorce
The perfect work-life balance is what works for
you, not some objective standard handed down from on high.
And if at times in your life it makes you happy - or pleasingly
wealthy - to put in some extra work, then go for it.
Take time out flexibly too
Flexible work helps work-life balance as long as
there truly is a balance. It should give you the
opportunity to re-time or re-locate work in order to do what you
want to do in life.
Working late hours becomes more reasonable if
you've taken time out in the day to do what you have - or want -
to do: attending that school sports day, carrying out a caring
responsibility, going hang-gliding, being a board member of a
charity and so forth.
And it's also more acceptable when you know that
you'll also be getting time-off-in-lieu. Demand it!
"Binge working" and bundling your hours
We've noticed a strong demand in staff
consultations for options that allow workers to bundle their
hours: compressed working hours options and self-rostering
with longer shifts are popular, especially for people with
longer journeys or who have to spend nights away from home.
There's also the phenomenon of "binge working" -
working flat out for a while, to be balanced by longer periods
of chilling out. And why not, if it works for you?
The key principle is to take ownership of the
hours on and the hours off, and not become a slave to the
Finally, the off button
Switching off the computer and the
communications gadgets can be psychologically challenging -
But mechanically, it remains simple. Click.
Now for some fun.