The Work/Life Balance Myth

One of the greatest myths that the modern working world has, that experts and businesses alike would like you to believe is real, would be the work/life balance. You will see it mentioned every where. It is the latest Corporate buzz word, and everyone is talking about ways you can go about achieving it. The sad reality is most of us (I am prepared to admit there are a minor few who seem to achieve this mythological balance) will never reach it.

The fact is very few workplaces are really flexible. Most workplaces think working part-time  and giving parental leave is being flexible enough. Some workplaces will even let you work from home if you are at the executive level or maybe even a web designer but only really if your child is sick or you are sick. While this is a good start it is not really meeting the ongoing needs of working parents and the work life parent.

Even if your work place has part-time work arrangement policies the actual staff may be resentful of you using it.I remember when I returned to work part-time after my maternity leave having immense pressure put on me to be there when they wanted me to be there and to do the same level of work as a full-time worker because resources and staff was stretched.

But what happens if you don’t have a choice for working part-time? what if you are a single parent, or you have debt (like a home loan), or perhaps you are the main wage earner in your family and going part-time simply is not an option. What do you do then?

You hear of rare stories where some work places are introducing innovative ideas to help their staff get back to work. Some companies have either a child care centre on site for their workers children or they an arrangement with a nearby child care for their workers. Some work places have breast-feeding room for their working mothers and even allow them to take time out from work to express breast milk with out it coming out of their lunch break time (but if your work has a breast-feeding room please check what your HR policy is and your bosses expectation is of you taking time out to express. For example I worked previously in an office that an allocated breast-feeding room yet if I were to use it then it was considered my own personal time and I would have to make up any time spent in there).

Ita Buttrose was recently slammed by feminists for suggesting women can have included in salary packages cleaning or nanny services. Personally I think it is a great idea. There is nothing more disheartening coming home from a full day of work to a messy house and knowing you then have to spend at least 3 hours cooking and cleaning for the family. Then its bed time routine and whammy there goes your day and any chance of real time with your family. So a cleaner in my house cleaning yes please I will take it!

What about working remotely as well? I hear from plenty of friends that they could easily do their jobs from home. My job for example is 90% computer based. It is working in databases and processing information on a shared network. I do not physically need to be in an office other than for meetings and maybe to do filing. However the idea of someone for a big company working most of the time from home is crazy talk, businesses and people are still very resistant to the idea especially if you are “only” at a lower level. For some reason people still seem to think if you work for a big company you really need to have a presence in the office.

Family friendly can be more than just the obvious. It can be as simple as giving their staff some flexibility in the workplace. Like working perhaps 7am-3pm. Or having a cafe or cafeteria on site with healthy menus that are free for staff to use and save the worker time and money. A friend of mine worked in a place in europe where the office had a games room, yes a games room, so staff could take time out have a game of pool or a round of Mario Kart. And you know what they were not in there for hours, they would pop in for 10 minutes (or their lunch breaks) and relax then go back to their desks. Maybe we can do what the Spanish do and have 20 minute siesta during the day.

I heard the Facebook office has a staff pick up service where a bus collects its staff and drives them to work. Giving staff time to access emails and complete small tasks before they even get to work and thus starting the day in a bit of a better mood (and it saves them on transportation costs).

We have all seen the photographs of Google’s offices where are designed to almost be a home away from home with fun break out areas, indoor gardens, and even encourage working away from your desk.

All those little things would make your working life just a little easier and might leave you in a better frame of mind for when you got home. Because in this day an age of limited resources, and limited staff in the work place the pressures on individual worker is greater and greater. I wouldn’t even want to contemplate trying to find workplace/home life balance if I was a single parent, or a carer of a family member with a disability or illness.

As a culture both working and society we need to have a serious rethink of how we work and how we can stop intruding into personal lives. We need to stop looking at work practices that are out dated and out of touch, and change the working culture and perception to support these changes. Because ultimately you can have the most innovative practices, policies, and office in the world, but if your managers and staff do not support it then it will fail.

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