ALMOST ENTIRELY IN THE MIDDLE EAST TODAY (Thursday) and virtually in the rest of the world tomorrow, many would have made plans by now on how to spend their weekends. Nearly ten years ago, the entrepreneur Ricardo Semler wrote an interesting book called The Seven Day Weekend with an appropriate sub title : FINDING WORK-LIFE BALANCE. It is an interesting read. Today, I keep wondering whether the issue of work-life balance should be confined only to weekends.
OUR PREOCCUPATION WITH WORK has indeed got prolonged with devices such as the Blackberry. The question we have to ask ourselves is whether we are duty bound to look at our mobiles, tablets and laptops intermittently long after we have wound up for the day at office – any day for that matter and not just on weekends. It appears that there are sharply divided opinions on the issue, the latest being Lucy Kellaway (the acerbic columnist in the Financial Times) saying that it may not be an entirely good thing to shut oneself off completely from work when one is on holiday. The apposite question in this context is whether we are ourselves happy doing it and whether we are really comfortable ourselves in getting rid of our own compulsions of wanting to “be in touch with the office” while we are away from the place of work.
WHEN ONE LOOKS AT THE ISSUE CLOSELY, leisure is essentially a by product of work itself – rather one begets leisure after a spell of work. You feel that you have actually earned your leisure hours after your preoccupation with work. But why should this happen only on weekends? Regrettably, our wired world does not let us off easily. The trick lies in taking our work seriously and our leisure hours equally seriously and ensuring that these worlds do not overlap.
IF WE CARE TO ENSURE that we outlaw all personal interventions at work there is a very solid case made that work should not infiltrate our personal space when we are away from the workplace. For this to meaningfully happen, we do need to have strong interests or passions beyond our jobs – a deeply engaging hobby or sport, voluntary work, and engagements on a variety of family matters without which we will only slip back to work and end up doing nothing else, and as the saying goes, all work and no play make us all uninteresting human beings. I was thrilled recently when I received an email from a partner of a law firm saying that he is away from work for a while as he needs to attend to his interests in music – but he was courteous to say that we could contact him only in the event of an absolute emergency.
IF WE ARE FULLY INDULGENT on our weekends alone we slide into the other extreme of having Sunday or Monday morning blues depending on whether one is in the Middle East or elsewhere. Instead we should pursue our avocation every day and indeed feel entitled to this diversion after a full immersion at work during the appointed hours.
THE WORLD SHOULD BECOME MORE RECEPTIVE towards flexitime and employers should not really be bothered about how many hours we put in at work as long as the expected deliverables are all in on time. For this to happen we also need managements consisting of individuals who themselves have varied interests beyond the bottom line and who believe that in assisting their employees to maintain a work-life balance, overall productivity is almost guaranteed. Google and many others have already recognized this and there is no reason why others should not follow suit.