It’s 6pm? I’m barely getting started
We’ve all had bosses who would drop the sarcastic “Thanks for dropping by!” when we leave the office at 6pm on the dot.
In the wake of the financial crisis, where layoffs mean more work per employee, people are getting better at doing the jobs of more than one person. But while being able to multi-task well is one thing, managing work-life balance is another.
Unfortunately, a lot of people I speak to still work in an environment where if you’re not at your desk putting in those extra hours, it’s equal to you being an unproductive staff member.
Of course, this isn’t a belief I subscribe to and, thankfully, that mindset is starting to shift; I think a lot of it starts with the big guys at the top. When I popped by PR agency Waggener Edstrom a few weeks back for a catch up, Matt Lackie, the firm’s Singapore general manager, said he actively tries to herd his staff out of the office at six.
“I have two kids. I come in early but I have to leave by six, six-thirty. On my way out the door, I’m always telling people to get moving and wrap it up, because it’s important,” he said.
“We know that if people have a life outside of work, the time they spend in the office will be more productive and they’ll be much happier.”
I was discussing work-life balance with Bruce, an operations executive in Hong Kong, when it suddenly occurred to him he works 14 hours a day on average.
“That’s crazy,” I said, to which he nonchalantly replied, “But it’s normal.”
In doing research for this post, I came across a pretty dated article on the Harvard Business Review blog by Ron Ashkenasm, a managing partner of Schaffer Consulting. He wrote the more people extend their normal working hours, the more going home at the usual knock off time seems like under-working.
With technology, it’s become easier to work anywhere and anytime. I’ll confess that if an email comes in from a client in the States at 9pm at night, it takes a bit of willpower to say, “You know what? That can wait until morning”. I’ve been able to respond to emails and even edit articles during commutes, waiting in line for coffee, and while sitting in the foyer watching birds with my fat cat.
My friend Pam, who works in communications, agreed that my cat is fat and that it can be hard to separate work from life some times.
“I find myself doing a lot of research on weekends or when I am on the bus, thinking up news headlines and constantly conjuring pitch ideas in the middle of a social conversation,” she said.
But this flexibility may be a double-edged sword because being able to work anytime can mean working all the time.
Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg turned heads earlier this month when she said she leaves the office at 5.30pm everyday. One of the most powerful people in one of the world’s biggest tech set-ups works 9 to 5? Blasphemy, you would say!
However, in reading her interview with Mashable, I found one of her statements slightly discomforting.
“I walk out of this office every day at 5:30 so I’m home for dinner with my kids at 6:00, and interestingly, I’ve been doing that since I had kids,” Sandberg said in the interview.
“I did that when I was at Google, I did that here, and I would say it’s not until the last year, two years that I’m brave enough to talk about it publicly. Now I certainly wouldn’t lie, but I wasn’t running around giving speeches on it.”
Just the fact that it’s taken her this long to come out and admit to having a work-life balance is upsetting. Some time in the last few years, many corporate ladder-climbing, paper chasing, eager beaver employees have tricked themselves – and probably us in the process – that late hours and little sleep have become badges of honour.
Well, I say it’s time that ends. Structure a realistic to-do list, manage your time, prioritise your responsibilities, delegate, and learn to say, “No, not now”. These are just but a few of the simple things you can do to make sure you’re out that door and on your way out to a healthy social and family life at 6pm.
This weekend, I’m happy to say I’ll be switching off my work PC, and deactivating work emails on my phone. And come next Monday, let’s try and manage work and life a bit better so we can get more out of both worlds. I’m not saying it’s something that will happen overnight, but put in enough effort and the pay offs will be worth it, trust me.
Like Lily Tomlin says, “For fast-acting relief, try slowing down.”
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