Work-life Balance – Battling a long hours culture?

Like it or not, you are all ‘stakeholders’ in the great work-life debate whose worthy national week has just passed largely unnoticed among the massed ranks of the employed. Presumably, we were all either too busy or too lazy to put aside a moment and spare a thought for the big questions of life, work and relaxation. Busy researchers at the National Work-Life Forum, backed by PricewaterhouseCoopers, among others, have been beavering away on our behalf for over two years on a report into our long hours culture. For those who can stomach it, the 103-page report, Breakpoint/breakthrough: work-life strategies for the 21st century, provides a meeting ground for Blairite stakeholder politics and a post-1960s language of ‘holistic’ partnerships, virtuous circles and breaking through (to the other side). It is the sort of language our well-adjusted prime minister Tony Blair could find himself employing to colleagues and the public over the next couple of weeks as he negotiates his own lay-in. Ed Smith, a partner at PwC who chairs the steering and strategy group, said: ‘Any organisation whose business plan fails to incorporate work-life strategies will need to re-think their future carefully if they are to compete successfully in tomorrow’s changing world.’ Chairperson Joanna Foster said the forum she set up in 1997 wants to demonstrate work-life balance matters ‘socially and economically to men, women and their families; to communities; to work organisations and to government. ‘To change attitudes and behaviour – to develop ways of working that will transform for the better organisational culture and our lives – demands a wider, deeper, more holistic and integrated approach,’ she added. Smith believes technological advances and a developing new economy are driving the need for a change in attitudes to work. ‘In a nation characterised by a long-hours culture, this shift will be driven by leaders who see the changing drivers of value in business,’ he mused. Sounding more like a latter day Dr Timothy Leary than an accountant advising on management techniques, he argued beliefs form the foundations of the business culture and dictate what is ‘sacred, what is sanctioned and what is taboo’. These leaders are by their behaviour sanctioning consistent behaviour among others. Only then will employees feel empowered to attain a true balance between work and life. Dress down day? Now, where did I put that kaftan?

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