Work-Life Balance

Work-life balance signsNigel Marsh, the Australian author of “Overworked and Underlaid ,” gave a fantastic talk at TEDxSydney about a year ago, which just came out on the TED website this week. If you’ve never heard of TED, it is an internationally renowned conference in which speakers from all walks of life talk about their work, life, or stories. It stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design, and its slogan is “Ideas worth spreading.” The popularity of the conference has grown over the last few years – in part, I’m sure, because of the rise of YouTube – and now a new talk comes out virtually every day. I find that the best TED talks include at least some element of storytelling, insight, and humor. Marsh has them all wrapped up in 10 minutes.

“There are thousands and thousands of people out there leading a life of quiet, screaming desperation; where they work long, hard hours at jobs they hate, to enable them to buy things they don’t need, to impress people they don’t like. …And it’s my contention that going to work in jeans and a T-shirt isn’t really getting to the ‘nub’ of the issue.”

He believes that we should take responsibility for our own work-life balance, and not rely on others to do so, because employers might not agree with our ideas of balance. A study conducted by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) – an American company that researches business professionals worldwide – found that 50,000 workers reported that work-life balance is the second most important factor in the workplace, only after compensation. 53% of employees reported good work-life balance in 2006, which dropped since the financial crisis to 30% in 2009. This balance is a concern for many employers as well, because employee productivity is at stake.

People’s opinions of work-life balance differ, but Marsh hopes not only to redefine this balance, but to transform society into one that doesn’t judge success based on the amount of money you possess when you die. He’s not exactly breaking new ground, but he certainly does a great job of communicating his ideas.

“We need to elongate the time-frame upon which we judge the balance in our life. But we need to elongate it without falling into the trap of the ‘I’ll have a life when I retire.’ ”

He also touches on well-intentioned companies such as those who provide child-care services. While this is helpful, it doesn’t actually create any more balance in our lives, it just makes us stay at the workplace longer. As he seems to define it, balance is a combination of being intellectually, physically, emotionally, and spiritually stimulated. Although this may seem like a tall order, he ends his talk with a poignant story about his son, which shows just how easy it can be to find balance.

While it’s true that the example may not seem to be analogous to your own situation (i.e., his child was not an employee), Marsh’s message still remains. It is the accumulation of the “little things” that makes a big difference.

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