We have the Industrial Revolution of the late 1700s and early 1800s to thank for the birth of factories. It was an interesting time in history because mass-produced factory goods kick-started global urbanisation (more people flocking to the cities) and on the back of that Henry Ford can be credited for institutionalising the 40-hour work week. Thanks Henry…What a guy 🙂

Two hundred years later and many of us have swopped baggy denim dungarees and punching time cards in at Sellotape factories for virtual check-ins the minute we open our computers and they sprout the Wi-Fi icon. But not much has really changed if you think about it. Twenty-first century offices are still factories turning out products and services, and most of us still do the 9 to 5 thing, 5-days a week, don’t we?

If you drive a Ford, think about how ironic it is that you drive to work and back, Monday to Friday, to pay off a car named after the man who made your 40-hour work week the norm, all those years ago.

Do you think we’ve always been thinking about the work-life balance conundrum?

Since we’ve had a rigid labour framework imposed on us, you must believe that billions of people throughout the decades have been thinking about ways to balance the scales. They didn’t have the internet to connect them with like-minded people and hatch buzz words like “work-life balance” but which human, trading time for money, isn’t thinking about getting more out of life and working less.

So, the question begs – What does ‘work-life balance’ in the 21st century look like?

It’s different from one person to the next, but the crux of the matter is that we are all looking to find a balance between the work we put in to pay the bills (lots of bills!) and having enough time to enjoy life. What’s the point of having the big house and snazzy car if you don’t even have time to smell the roses?

Some of us are militant and make very clear distinctions between what is “our time” and the time that belongs to our employer. “I’m employed to do a job for 40-hours a week and outside of that, my time is my own.” If you’ve managed to get that right, congratulations. It’s not an easy thing to do nowadays.

For many of us, the lines are blurred (and getting even more blurred). Employers are looking for business outcomes and people who can help them achieve those outcomes. You are unlikely to be sitting in a job interview talking about how many hours you need to be at work. It’s assumed nowadays that you will put in as many hours as it takes to achieve the outcome you’ve been tasked with. That means if you have a deadline for Monday morning, you might well find yourself sitting through Sunday to get the work done.

Think about how this statement is likely to go down with your boss – “Andi, I didn’t manage to get that proposal off to the guys in Angola because it was the weekend and you know that my time for the company ends at exactly 17H00 on a Friday afternoon. Look, I know we missed the deadline for the tender, but I don’t think it’s a train smash!”

Perhaps we have this the wrong way around?

What if we decided not to define our day? Consider for a second the idea that life and work aren’t separated. Work is very much part of our life, and perhaps that’s why we shouldn’t separate it. It’s the rigidity of the 40-hour work week that’s left us feeling disgruntled. Maybe it’s balance and not work-life balance that is the holy grail.

If you consider that businesses are looking for outcomes rather than hours, it’s fair to say that your employer probably doesn’t care if you clock in at the office at 08H00 and leave at 13H00 provided you achieve what was set out for you. Global trends suggest that there is a move towards getting the job done, rather than having to account for the hours it takes you to get the job done. A recent statistic indicated that 8 million Americans work from home, and that number is growing each year.

Wouldn’t this be a refreshing conversation to have with your boss?

“Jack, my job is to make R1,000,000 in sales a year. Year-to-date I’m tracking right on target, so I’ve decided that spending an hour in traffic every day to get to work by 08H00 and then spending another 90 minutes in traffic in the evening because I leave at 17H00, isn’t working for me. I can login from home and outside of our weekly sales meeting, consider that I’m working but I’m not office bound”

Why aren’t we trying to have more of these types of conversations? Do you really think Jack cares if he sees your car in the parking lot each morning if you are doing your job? The answer is no.

Look, we don’t know what the exact answer to the whole work-life balance is. You know what you need out of your life. We believe in making wiser choices. That means if it’s wise for you to chat to your boss about not having to clock in as much as you are, you will probably free up more time to do the things you love to do outside of work.

What’s the harm in asking?

If you back yourself to get the job done, try and get it done on your terms and in your own hours.

Please feel free to leave your comments below.


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