The issue of work-life balance will be explored throughout this week in The Guardian.

Kicking off the week is a Q&A with one of the City of London’s leading lights Nicola Horlick and there will be a wide range of other articles and blogs throughout the week.

Creating the right work-life balance has become increasingly important to me since I plunged into self-employment a little over two years ago.

Initially, the prospect of flexible working was attractive for reasons of self-interest. Two years on, it still is in so many respects but for very different motives.

I now work as a freelance journalist and consultant, mainly from home, whilst also acting as a carer for my wife (Rachel). I struggle with the word carer, it has taken more than a year to even type it in relation to myself.

The work-life balance we’ve created between us and the people I work with has been successful so far, but I can’t help thinking it all would have been so much different if I hadn’t decided to take voluntary redundancy and set up on my own.

Is holding a full-time, salaried job and all that that traditionally entails – being tied to an office desk, doing the 9-5 – compatible with caring?

Are attitudes changing sufficiently to make this more possible by allowing greater flexibility of location and making use of technology – video conferencing, for example – to enable people to juggle a full-time job and full-time caring responsibilities?

I can’t help thinking that employers are more attuned to the requirements of working parents, rather than working carers – but, then, I would as I’m a carer and not a parent. I’m sure there are plenty of people who would argue otherwise.

It is an issue that will hopefully be addressed by The Guardian’s week-long series, along with other issues related to work-life balance. It is also an issue I’ll return to later this week.

My over-riding impression is that many employers tend to say the right things in relation to work-life balance, but they don’t necessarily practice what they preach.

To be seen as a caring, sharing employer is more important than acting as a caring, sharing employer.

I could be way off mark and the example I’ll use – last year’s series of The Apprentice – is hardly a true or fair representation of the world of business and employment.

And yet the attitude displayed by Sir Alan Sugar in relation to several of last year’s candidates suggests the idea that work should come first, second, always in the list of priorities of the successful businessman or woman does endure.

The job is all-important, everything else pales in comparison. If you’re not prepared to give 100% of yourself and your life to your job, then (with regret, obviously) you’re fired.

I’m as confident as I can be that it will be a dilemma faced by other candidates in this year’s series.

But I’ve never believed anyone should be defined by their job .

There is – or at least, should be – so much more to this life than work.

(Edit: The Guardian’s Q&A with Nicola Horlick is postponed until later this week).

2 responses »

  1. Mikki says:

    Well yes… but don’t forget that Alan Sugar is notoriously backwards about flexible working.

    Surely with this sort of attitude he’s failed to ask two very important questions:
    1) why assume that it is woman who will shoulder the lion’s share of the responsibility for childcare once her maternity leave period finishes?
    2) why assume that a person cannot perform unless they make work their overwhelming priority? Isn’t it better to have someone who can prove that they are prepared to make sacrifices for what’s important to them, than to have someone who sees your precious job as just a self-serving stepping stone?

    But I also understand this from the point of view of the employer. it’s very hard to practice what you preach, more in some industries than others. For example I work in manufacturing. They’re reliant on people physically being at work. It’s all very well offering the managers/ white collar the flexibility to work from home or alter their hours to suit, but wouldn’t that open them to accusations of discrimination from the shop floor staff? They can be offered shifts that are a “best fit” but the business could not run with true flexibility.

    It’s true, though, that businesses are more geared to the needs of parenting than caring – if a mother has a suggestion for flexible working then the business has an obligation to consider it – a right that neither fathers nor carers get.

  2. […] Work-life balance week in The Guardian […]

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