Has Britain lost work/life balance perspective?

Most days at work for me are non-stop and yesterday was no exception. However, after being off-line for most of the day, when home time arrived I was still feeling terribly behind. So, rather than stay late (I needed to get out of the office and there was also a Tube Strike making getting home a concern) I decided to log-on for 15 – 20 minutes at home to clear some small tasks. Nothing major, just ‘admin’. Sam also had some work to do, so we agreed 20 mins after dinner. We started and…75 minutes later we finished.

What concerned me more than my ability to allow time to pass so rapidly though was how many of my colleagues were also logged-on working – at 8:30pm on a Wednesday night. In fact, we were exchanging emails for a while.¬†After experiences on my last project, I don’t work late often – that was a rarity for me and I did it through choice to just help me focus better today. It cannot have been a coincidence my colleagues were online though…I fear they may do it more regularly than me.

When did all industries in the UK become saturated by such ‘out of hours’ working? This is indeed a topic I have been musing over for some time. Back in November I read a really interesting post in ‘i’ (the mini-paper produced by the Independent people) about this matter. In the paper it was entitled ‘A five-day week should not be seen as weak’ (the same content under a different name can be found here) and I very strongly agree. Indeed, I think evenings should also be included. I was honestly shocked (but not surprised) that Goldman Sacs were having to enforce a day off every week. What kind of culture do they have which leads to such a state?

On my last project, I started to work longer hours for two reasons:

  1. I had a big work load because I was trying to juggle two roles to get some new experience;
  2. We were working with consultants and sub-consciously I, and others, ended-up trying to match them on time-in-office.

I learnt a few important things from that project which seem obvious but even for someone like me (usually fairly logical, sensible and who doesn’t like going to bed late) they seemed to get forgotten:

  • Working longer hours does not mean increased output;
  • Working longer hours usually results in decreased output and a reduction in quality;
  • The brain can’t concentrate for 12 consecutive hours a day – people who work this long end up losing focus and waste a lot of productive time on social media and YouTube – summed up nicely in this article from Stylist;
  • Not switching off every evening and weekend doesn’t give your brain ‘down time’ to sort out all those tricky work problems that are bugging you;
  • Always being wired up to work means that you end up resenting it and lose sight of other aspects of your life;
  • Eventually you run out of steam and either get ill and / or reach emotional collapse – neither is good!

It would be easy to blame modern technology for this and indeed it is a contributing factor. Similarly, things have been exacerbated by the recession. But those things aside, ultimately it is society’s view of work that needs to change. Easier said than done perhaps but it feels like we are going down a bad road as a country. I know I am not alone in feeling that Britain needs to sort out it’s priorities. The only way we will ever made a change though is if individuals taking their life back and letting work have an important but not dominant place. Hopefully then those around them will start to follow suit.

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About Me

About Me

Hello, I'm Angela. I'm Mum to two small people (5 & 2). I'm a Gardener, am houseplant obsessed and addicted to tea. By day I work in tech and also look after my littles. I'm trying to get our family to live a more sustainable life. I also have far too many opinions...hence the blog. You can read more about me here. You can also follow me on Twitter so you never miss a post. Hope you enjoy reading!

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