As part of homeschooling I decided to teach my children about the industrial revolution. I wanted to give them an insight into the magnitude of change it’s possible to experience as well as introduce them to the world of work. It led into some discussions around women’s role and how and why schooling was introduced. My children are all primary age so these were only high level discussions but it did bring back into focus for me the reasons I got into HR and the impact of work on life.
The industrial revolution created the need for work life balance. It may be a much more recent term but fundamentally it was the industrial revolution that created work in a form which needed balancing with life. As we moved away from manufacturing and towards knowledge based industries the possibilities for balance improved as “leaving early” became possible and more recently flexible working requests became an entitlement.
The immediate problem we can see is that work life balance ends up meaning making a sacrifice at work in order to do what we need to at home. Anyone seeking work life balance faces challenges about their “commitment” to work whilst also not really achieving what they want at home.
I don’t know about your experiences, but work life balance has never felt particularly positive to me.
In the last few months, during lockdown – just like everyone else, everything I’ve done has been in and around the home. Never has my work and home life been more integrated. My partner and I have had to coordinate work to enable us both to be on calls at the same time. We’ve had to plan and manage homeschooling around work. Everything has just merged into one, everything we need to do just needs to be managed.
We’re not trying to balance work and life anymore – this is a blend. This is making everything work, whether that’s “work” or life. Not forgetting that at the moment “life” pretty much means the unpaid work we have to do to keep the family going.
This is about admitting we have multiple values – I value my work and achieving at work, I also value my family and the time I spend with my children and partner. Neither one makes me less committed to the other. In fact the skills I gain in each one and the time I enjoy in each one helps me in the other.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to move to permanent homeschooling, it’s hard work and puts a lot of time pressure on my day. But I do value the opportunity to be able to make both family and work happen. I value that I can manage my diary to be at school plays and parents evening (in “normal” times). I value that I can work when my brain is alive with ideas, which sometimes happens to be a weekend.
There are times when my brain just isn’t in the right place for focused work. Moving away from my computer and cleaning the kitchen in that moment becomes a valuable task. It enables me to feel like I’ve achieved something. A morning sitting at my desk struggling to get into work leads to an afternoon feeling crap because I had a rubbish morning – on the other hand a morning spent cleaning the kitchen clears my head and when I sit at my desk I feel like I’ve achieved something and I’m ready to start work.
Being able to blend work and home life moves the focus to outcomes and achievement rather than the time we do something. Clearly we can never get away from time fully, some things just need to happen at a certain time, but with the ability to manage our own time we suddenly are in a position to achieve much more. Simply by using time to our advantage.