Achieving the work-life balance - it is more than good time management (article)

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Derek Stockley comments on the problems associated with balancing work and family commitments.

The balance between work and family life is gaining more attention in Australia. Various articles are starting to appear and the media has picked it up as an issue to explore.

Unions have adopted the issue as a major campaign point and both employers and governments are responding.

Amongst full-time workers, the number of hours worked each week is being highlighted, particularly when significant numbers are working hours greater than the standard working week, which in Australia is a nominal 36-40 hours per week.

There are a number of developments having an impact on family lives:

  • Technology makes us more accessible. The wide spread use of mobile (cell) phones and email means that we can be contacted away from the office.

  • Globalisation means that the standard 9 to 5 (or 8 to 6) working day is extended to allow contact with people in different time zones. It also means that the distinction between weekdays and the "weekend" is blurred.

  • More and more people are "working from home", either on a full-time basis or as part of their normal working arrangements (Friday being popular).

  • Couples, if they have children, are having them later.

  • Child care arrangements and support have been significantly expanded in Australia.

Some of these developments support workers in achieving a good balance between work and family life. Other changes have the opposite effect.

As a father of five in a dual career family, I believe I can claim some experience in the subject.

I would never claim I ever developed the expertise to handle the situation fully or properly.

Four of my five sons have now reached adulthood, so I draw on extensive experience over a long time period to make the following observations:

  • There is always a compromise between working and family responsibilities. It may be occasional, it may be regular, but there will be a conflict between a work commitment and family commitment. You will be wanted in two different places at the same time. Your success as a parent and/or "worker" is dependant on how often you make the "right" choice.

  • Time scheduling and programming is critical. At one stage, my wife and I spent about an hour a week co-ordinating our diaries! A regular routine helps.

  • Time effective activities help. We were very thankful that our boys chose basketball as their major sport. Basketball is quick - you arrive five minutes before it starts, you play the game, you leave - all in about 50 minutes! With football and cricket, it was an all day commitment.

  • "Quality time" is good as a concept, but it does not beat "quantity time". For example, if your are not the one picking the child up from school, you miss the excitement of talking about the school day. Yes, you may talk about it later, but it is not the same.

  • On the other hand, "quantity time" is useless if you do not use it effectively. Your mind has to be where the children are. If you are driving them to school, there should be talking. A silence because you are thinking about your work day is not a good use of the precious time that you have.

  • Family time includes time with your children individually, together and as a whole family unit. It also includes "couple time".

My key message:

A successful family/work life is dependent on finding the right balance, making the right choices and ensuring that you have the flexibility, systems and support to achieve the goals that you have set. It takes teamwork, perseverance and a lot of effort.

Related article

Union Web Page - example of a union site, also highlights some good web links and media articles.

Information about related training programs by Derek Stockley are available at: time management training and work-life balance training and seminars.

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