What is a work-life balance and why is it important?
Work-life balance articles tend to assume that work is an oppressive evil that must be escaped. But is it? What if you are not stressed and enjoy meeting the challenges of your organisation? Is there something wrong with working a few extra hours? It depends on your relationships with the ones you are close to and whether these are sustainable given your career context. My point is that the idea of a work-life balance is different for everyone - you just need to understand what is important to you.
For example, would you like more time with family and friends? Are there sporting ambitions you want to achieve? These are valid reasons to set goals about your life and to give you a framework to make your decisions based on achieving an equilibrium.
There are also serious problems that could result from a life dominated by work. Your loved-ones may feel neglected or you could damage your physical or mental health. These are signs you may need to make radical changes and either renegotiate your hours, analyse your career choice or leave that employer.
What to do if there is a culture of presenteeism?
Let your managers and colleagues know about your constraints. For instance, inform them that you have to pick up your children from school at a certain time and see if they will schedule around you. Employers will support good employees to achieve a decent work-life balance. This is important for the company as it allows them to keep and support good workers and encourage loyalty from them.
Get more in sync with the office rhythm. When I was in France, everyone started at 9 am. There was no point arriving prior to that time as no one would register you as present. If being present is really important, then analyse when to be there when it really matters.
You can also create presence remotely. I will often rise early to clear my inbox and deal with urgent queries first. My colleagues see the value I create in the early morning and therefore understand when I leave at 5.30 pm.
Notwithstanding the above, always attend meetings with your manager and anyone above them as this is your chance to show off your work. Their time is precious and you may not get space in their diary at other times.
How to manage time effectively at work?
There is a school of thought that says you can have it all. Personally, I think this is true - it just depends what ‘all’ means to you and accepting that you need help. I do not set the expectation that I will do everything at work. By encouraging my staff to work independently rather than hovering over them, I get time to focus on high-value or top-priority activities.
You need allies to work out what you can delegate and also find time to do something positive for yourself. For example, I book time in my diary every day for lunch. My secretary does not book over the lunch period. This means I get fed at the right time and, every so often, even share lunch with a colleague. This is important time for me to recharge.
The same technique can be used to ensure you have desk time to prepare for that important presentation rather than having your day swallowed up by meetings that may not concern you. If pressed for time, decide what is necessary for any assignment, you do not have to aim for perfection every time. If you have a handful of important meetings ahead of you, ask someone else to attend on your behalf.
How do I negotiate my working arrangements?
Remember, balance is a negotiation between yourself and those around you. Often I see people failing to negotiate effectively with employers as they are unclear on what they want, or their expectations are unrealistic. If you want flexible working, you need to be hitting your targets as agreed with your managers.
If you want to work three days a week, be aware that you will need strategies to keep in touch with what happens on the other two days. Get to know the policies and implications of part-time employment in your workplace. Find out about what others have asked for to see what you can expect. Also, understand that sometimes other colleagues may have more important priorities than you and you may need to adapt to their timetable.
Finally, you will need to keep HR and your boss up to speed with changes. If you are willing to change your working arrangements to secure a new opportunity or promotion, you must communicate this to key personnel. Keeping an active dialogue with your manager and colleagues ensures your workplace’s expectations are aligned with yours.
Angela Ogier is manager of supply planning and optimisation at Santos, an Australian oil and gas exploration and production company. Ms Ogier is also an MBA 2004 graduate from the University of Cambridge’s Judge Business School, in the UK.