PracticePeople In PracticeStriking the right work/life balance

Striking the right work/life balance

How's your work/life balance? Chances are it's tilting heavily in favour of work. Punishing hours are part of the package for plenty of us, but strategies exist that can help lift the strain, free-up time or offer a fresh perspective.

Duncan Cheatle was finance director of Medicom International, a medical publishing and communications agency, when he turned to TenUK, a provider of lifestyle management and concierge services.

Now he runs several businesses including the Supper Club, where entrepreneurs network over nice nosh, and he is still paying TenUK £150 a month for a dedicated lifestyle manager to sort out anything that needs doing, from getting a cleaner to selling his car.

‘I work long hours – 10 hours a day minimum,’ he says. ‘The natural tendency is to delegate, but not outside work. When I get free time, I want to make the most of it. I make reasonable money and having a lifestyle manager is an affordable way of delegating jobs that need doing in my personal life.’

Jobs range from the irksome to researching great places to take clients. ‘I will tell my lifestyle manager what the person is like and they will source suitable bars, clubs or venues. The client is chuffed and leaving a good impression can help win business.’

Cheatle can write off his expenditure on a lifestyle manager as a business cost, but it’s not just individuals who use such services; TenUK offers corporate membership too.

‘Finance directors may think about using our corporate service to help a team which is under pressure,’ says Sarah Hornbuckle, business development director at TenUK. ‘We can save employees time sorting out things that often have to be done during working hours, such as getting hold of a plumber.’

She says the company has done ‘a lot of the leg work’ checking out the reliability of service companies they engage. ‘We vet suppliers and make sure they have a good track record. Using us is like having a trusted uncle who is ‘in the know’ about things.’

But it’s worth remembering there are some jobs you shouldn’t even trust to your uncle. Selling a house may be tedious, but a buyer who entered into negotiations with someone who had handed over the sale to a lifestyle manager said the process was ‘a nightmare.’

Cheatle says the art of using a lifestyle manager successfully is to ‘work out the things you need to maintain control over. I delegate a lot of research and reviewing to my lifestyle manager but I make the final decisions.’

Audit Your Working Life
Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University Management School, doesn’t go a whole bundle on concierge services. He fears the temptation for workaholics is to fill their freed-up time with extra work and not strive for a healthy work/life balance. ‘At least if they are taking their own clothes to the dry cleaners they are likely to meet people,’ he says.

If you have become surgically attached to your desk, Professor Cooper advocates asking a mentor, coach or a trusted friend to help audit your diary to put some space back into it. ‘Categorise what is unnecessary, what is useful but not necessary and what is non-negotiable and see what you can dump.’

After identifying the tasks you normally do which can be shelved, Professor Cooper says you must inform your personal assistant or support system. ‘With unnecessary appointments you notice, you can tell your people to avoid making them in the future.’

It is essential to create space in the diary for ‘private things’. He suggests having an exit time. ‘Leave at that time and get everything done before. You need an outside life.’

Professor Cooper says research shows that long hours damage your health, relationships with partners and children and, interestingly, your productivity. To ensure you stick to your get-a-life guns, Professor Cooper says it’s advisable to have a follow-up meeting with your friend or coach.

‘They can see if you are adhering to your resolutions.’ He believes that by involving a third party you are less likely to regress. ‘If you pay a professional to help you, you don’t want to waste money. If you are involving a friend, you don’t want to waste their time.’

Alternatively, if you want to go it alone, The Life Audit helps you lead the life you want. The book’s methodology of using charts and questionnaires can be applied to 10 areas of your life including work. Author Caroline Righton took inspiration from her own experience running a busy department in television and balancing a budget worth millions of pounds. ‘I found the checks and controls reassuring. There’s nothing like a well-ordered set of accounts,’ she says.

She devised a system for discovering what you want to do using time as the currency. Days are divided up into quarter-hour blocks and you work out where your time is being invested. ‘I applied a spreadsheet mentality and calculated where I wasted or lost time. I audited out the stuff I hated to see what disposable time I had left to spend on things I wanted to do.’

There are three stages to the process – stocktaking, analysis and opening new accounts where you can invest time in your dreams and ambitions. The equation is: X (total hours available) – Y (hours committed) = Z (time available or ‘disposable income’).

Men are responding particularly well to the book. ‘A lot of self-help books are geared towards women but men like the pragmatic approach and the idea of using stocktaking to discover what you want out of life.’

Boost Your Motivation
Last year Mark Scott, managing director of Mark Scott Financial Planning Limited, went on a seven-day active break with The Big Stretch to work out what to do work-wise. In the morning he had life coaching sessions and in the afternoon he went walking in northern Spain’s Picos mountains.

‘It was not a holiday,’ he says. ‘It was mental and physical stretching. Walking in the hillsides helps put your brain in alpha mode where issues you have discussed in the morning begin to resolve themselves.’

Scott was wrestling with several career options including continuing with his current job. ‘I needed to see the bigger picture, which wasn’t possible working a 60-hour week. I needed coaching to get my head around the options and filter and distil my priorities.’

Lee Chalmers, coach and development consultant for The Big Stretch, says it tends to attract successful high fliers who want to rediscover their core values. ‘Through brainstorming a plan is created to move forward so that people reconnect with what they want to achieve in the world,’ he says.

Scott joined a group of eight professionals who he had never met before. ‘It’s important not to go with people associated with you as you are baring your soul and you want to see yourself without the influence of other people in your life. A lot of power came from being in the group. Nobody was judgemental and we all bounced ideas off each other.’

He says the trip has armed him with ‘some new skills and techniques to enable me to carry on the thinking process.’ Practical outcomes include a plan of action to help him keep on the right course.

‘I’ve broken the habit of flopping in front of the television in the evenings and use my time more constructively. I’m doing as much in my work but I’m not thinking “oh this project is behind”. I take things in their stride.’

Get a Business Therapist or try Group Therapy
‘Finance directors’ long hours are a big cause of stress and their role can be very difficult, but often the effects of stress are less detrimental for them than for people lower down the food chain because they have more control and can set and maintain a strategic position,’ observes Dr Frank Bond, senior lecturer in the department of psychology at Goldsmiths College, University of London.

But when the pressures of the job pile up, knowing you can do something about it is a good reason to seek professional guidance on how best to cope or sharpen your game.

Dr Michael Drayton moved from therapy into business coaching and works with a lot of finance directors. ‘They hold a lot of the anxiety of an organisation because of the focus on the bottom line,’ he says.

Coaching can be expensive, but if the money is going on good advice then it’s worth it so make sure you check out the credentials of business coaches or therapists.

‘Top sports people all have coaches so why shouldn’t successful business people. But a lot of people out there are not qualified and give coaching a bad name. They should have a PhD in psychology,’ advises Dr Drayton.

Issues that crop up are planning ahead, public speaking and the pitfalls of being too familiar or abrasive at work.

‘I see individuals who have risen up the organisation quickly who are efficient and hardworking but also impatient. Their career grinds to a halt and they can’t see why. They need to slow down and develop their emotional skills. On the other hand if they are too pally they may not be establishing firm boundaries.’

If the idea of a one-to-one makes you squirm, group mentoring maybe your bag. The Academy for Chief Executives consists of 30 groups of up to 15 executives who meet on a monthly basis to swap stories, offer each other support and learn from expert speakers.

‘We have financial directors in the academy because often they are the chief executive officers’ most trusted advisers,’ says Piers Fallowfield-Cooper, chairman of one of the academy groups. He believes the £810 monthly membership can give an outside perspective to help with their evolving role.

‘An FD used to be the guy who did the numbers. Now he runs IT, is responsible for compliance and is the sounding board for the moral ethics of the company.’

Fallowfield-Cooper feels the strength of peer group mentoring is its continuity. ‘One-to-one therapy is often for a specific problem that needs a fix. Peer group mentoring is an ongoing process where strong relationships are built up between members who can share resources. It’s about learning from trusted friends and colleagues who have no axe to grind.’

‘Sabbaticals are a great idea – whether it’s for personal development or with a client company – so you come back refreshed and with more confidence,’ says Professor Cooper. ‘They are not uncommon but in our job-insecure world, it takes some bravery to go on one,’ he adds.

Deloitte has a refreshing attitude towards the idea of its employees escaping its clutches for up to a year. ‘We have looked at ways of keeping people on board and by allowing employees to achieve their interim goals and go on a sabbatical after three years, they are more likely to stay with us in the longer term,’ explains a spokeswoman for the firm.

Nick Webster, manager in technology, media and telecommunications at Deloitte, took a three-month sabbatical last year. He divided his time between sailing, serving in the Territorial Army and travelling around France and South America.

‘It was one long holiday,’ he admits. ‘But after my hard work qualifying, I felt like a break.’ Without the option of a sabbatical, Webster says a lot of people feeling like him would simply leave a business. He didn’t have to justify what he did with his time, but he says the break has had a positive effect on his career. ‘Experiencing different cultures and countries opens your eyes, and gave me a fresher perspective on my work.’

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