I’m now into my third week back at work after eight weeks off. Eight whole weeks! I’ve never had such a long period of time off in my whole working life. But it wasn’t eight weeks spent in the sunshine relaxing on a beach drinking Margaritas, it was eight weeks of hospital stays, sleepless nights, constant screaming and what seemed like very long days just battling to survive!
It sounds pretty horrific, and it was very hard at times but it was also magical and memorable as on the 19th of December 2018 our new little baby Caspian was born!
But why am I writing about this? This isn’t a mum’s blog and you probably don’t really care about my eight weeks of shitty nappies and sleep deprivation.
Well, between naps and screams I had the chance to think. A lot. Being away from the day to day businesses, emails and phone calls, not working at 100 miles an hour and juggling different projects, I was able to allow myself some headspace to think about lots of things including my work/life balance as I realised I was doing way too much.
Workers in the UK are currently working the longest hours in Europe, take the shortest lunch breaks and have the fewest public holidays
Prior to my maternity/paternity/parental leave (whatever it’s referred to in a lesbian relationship!) the teams were asked to kindly not email me and only contact me if it was very urgent.
They wanted to make sure I wasn’t distracted with anything and could have time with Sarah and Caspian. I was very nervous about this as I had never been detached from the business, even for a day! I’m a bit of a perfectionist so letting go and not being involved in any decisions was scary.
Experts agree: the compounding stress from the never-ending workday is damaging. It can hurt relationships, health and overall happiness
What really hit me hard and made me think I should probably re-evaluate my work/life balance, especially now we had a child, was something my wife Sarah said during my eight weeks off.
She said: “It’s been so nice to have you back” which made me think about all the hours I spend at my screen, distracted or away for meetings.
She has never resented me for this. She knows how passionate I am about what I do and how much I love throwing myself into work. But it did make realise I needed to use this time off to figure out how to ensure I get a more balanced life so I am not lost in work all of the time.
It is common place for Britons to be working 48 hour weeks, which is a significant difference to the French for example who work on average 35 hours per week
This idea of work/life balance isn’t new but a lot has been written about it over the past decade.
In the UK there increasingly seems to be a complete lack of balance, especially in the big cities, and numerous studies and reports have been carried our highlighting this as a growing concern.
There are also many articles, books and conferences debating this idea and suggesting how to achieve it. Despite awareness of the issue, working hours over the past decade have actually increased rather than decreased.
Those in the 25-34 age group are the most dissatisfied with their work/life balance (YouGov)
I’m depressingly not in that age bracket any more, but a large percentage of people we employ in our media group are.
We have always tried to ensure the team feel happy and motivated at work by creating a culture where they feel valued and supported. We don’t expect people to work past their contracted hours, offer flexible working and we recently implemented alternative Fridays off so people could have nice long weekends and come back feeling refreshed.
I know there are lots of ways businesses are structured to address this balance and I don’t think there is a utopian solution as every business has different needs, but it’s definitely something every business needs to think about as a priority as it’s clearly a growing issue.
The Telegraph recently reported that more than 2 million UK nationals have emigrated from the UK, the majority of whom have gone to the likes of Australia and the USA.
Statistics suggest that 56% of emigrants gave work-related reasons as the main factor for leaving the UK. As appealing as jetting off to California and opening an office in Malibu is, it wouldn’t solve the problem of getting my day to day life into a more organised manner.
Technology has killed work-life balance
Technology has not only removed the boundaries between work and private life but it has also seriously lengthened the working day. Research has also proved that constant connection can actually damage the concentration.
I know how true this is as my screen time is shocking!! My phone is like an addiction, it’s scary.
Everything including my emails and documents are there 24/7 so I am never really detached from them. So while I was off I ordered a clock for my bedside table so I can put my phone in another room at night to try to remove myself from my phone for a few hours.
A few months ago Sarah and I went away for a weekend and we stayed in a remote area with no phone signal, wifi, hot water etc. We lived off grid and it was one of the most therapeutic weekends we’ve ever had.
We had conversations with each other all weekend, made fires and played board games under the stars. So I also plan to try and unplug from any technology for one day a week. I think just taking time out from the modern world and unplugging like this is essential and something we must more make time to do.
It is well known that participation in regular physical activity generates physical and psychological health benefits
Everyone talks of the benefits of mindfulness, meditation and yoga to help address the work-life balance. I have tried all of these but they are just not for me sadly.
However, before Caspian was born I was regularly going to personal training sessions which always helped with stress and released some lovely endorphins!
After sessions I felt a little high and was always energised for the day. But I have not been for three months and feel a bit sluggish and shit so I know it’s crucial to make time to look after my brain and body.
So I now just need to find some things I can do regularly that works for me. To start with, I am trying to walk to or from the office as much as I can, although not sure breathing in the toxic fumes of London as I walk is that healthy!
Time is the new currency. Our time is precious. As demands on our time increase, the one thing we cannot do is to make more time
I was away with some family this weekend and my partner’s godparent advised me to make time for myself, Sarah and Caspian, and to learn how to say no to people sometimes.
It’s good being busy, but sometimes I need to trim things from the diary and just block a weekend out without arranging anything or seeing anyone and make time to chill out.
I also realised I do not want to be wasting my time doing the weekly shopping as I find it so boring and it takes bloody ages! So while I was off we started to do all our shopping with Ocado, starting bulk buying things on Amazon, and although we already had a cleaner, we decided to hire someone to do our ironing.
I cannot believe we hadn’t done the online shopping before! So simple and such an obvious way to save time. I still like going to the local shops to buy more specialist things but the boring weekly shop is no more. Yes these cost money but they give us valuable time to spend on important things and I feel that’s money well spent.
Perfectionism holds you back from being your most successful, productive self
As I mentioned earlier, I know I am a bit of a perfectionist and it’s something I’ve definitely struggled with.
I know perfectionism is an ultimately self-defeating way to move through the world and can often find it’s outlet in workaholism. So letting go of things and taking time out was a good thing. It enabled me to become more aware that I was taking on too much and exhausting myself being involved in too many things.
On my return to work everything was still running and functioning, nothing had gone wrong. What had I been worried about?
Letting go of things has been and still is a work in progress. But I know it’s needed and actually in doing so it makes me feel less stressed.
Not everyone will do things in the way I would do them but that’s not to say their way is wrong. When you own a business and you’ve grown it from scratch it is hard sometimes to let go of things that you care about so much.
This has been difficult at times but when you have amazing people working with you and you trust them you also have to trust yourself to let them run with things and make decisions.
Health and Happiness
So I returned to work with a new purpose. It’s early days but already I feel more in control of my work/life balance.
I am determined to continue working hard but also spend quality time with Caspian and Sarah, without my phone glued to my hand, or my brain constantly thinking about profit and loss accounts!
I hope in this time of increasing working hours and stress, businesses and individuals can start making the work/life balance discussion a priority as we are only on this planet once and our health and happiness must be our number one focus.