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Work /life balance.

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Joined 17-03-2005
Posted on Thursday, 15 February, 2007 - 02:07 pm:   

You may have read that a young city solicitor committed suicide in the Tate Modern a few days ago. The reasons are believed to be the cumulative stress of working long 16 hour days and in a highly pressurised and competitive environment. Yesterday UNICEF confirmed the UK as being the worst place for children to live.
I understand that the UK workers work more hours than many other European countries. It doesn't take much to conclude that there may be some link.

Do you feel in control of your work or is it controlling you to the extent that you feel that you live to work rather than work to live? If you are in control, happy to share your tips with the rest of us?
Joined 12-10-2006
Posted on Friday, 16 February, 2007 - 10:12 am:   

The inquest has been adjourned so I'm not sure it is very appropriate to be referring to the incident as a suicide...
Joined 01-01-2003
Posted on Friday, 16 February, 2007 - 11:11 am:   

Radio 4's Book of the Week featured an excerpt from Tom Hodgkinson's book 'How to be Free' a few weeks ago. I bought it and would recommend it to anyone seeking to regain a proper work/life balance.
Joined 16-07-2004
Posted on Friday, 16 February, 2007 - 05:20 pm:   

As FHS says, it's unknown whether it was suicide. While I agree in principle about the point you're making in respect of long hours worked in this country, the press is getting it wrong in this particular case which is probably distressing for his family and those who worked with him.

The young man in question was an Intellectual Property lawyer with Freshfields. Freshfields is a global firm and one of the Top 5 in this country. Anyone who goes to work for them knows that the hours won't be 9 to 5.

He probably did work long hours but in his practice area those hours are highly inlikely to have been 16 hours a day 7 days a week.

While I absolutely agree that it's important to highlight the lunacy of the long hours culture I think the press should not be using this particular case to stir up a debate, particularly since nobody knows for sure whether he fell or killed himself.
Joined 17-03-2005
Posted on Friday, 16 February, 2007 - 06:08 pm:   

Thanks for the book recommendation, WM, think I will have a look at this.
Joined 17-03-2005
Posted on Thursday, 22 March, 2007 - 05:39 pm:   

i regularly work those type of hours as the job sometimes requires it and with a minimum working day of 13 hours it just means you try to enjoy time off to the max.
Agree with FHS - incident still not confirmed. Many people work these hours and are OK (if not a little pale from lack of sun) and there is lots of help to cope with the hours offered in most places.
Also agree with Bosco that press trying to stir up debate. We all know what is involved when we take on these jobs and expect the rewards to go with it (another press debating point).
Joined 17-03-2005
Posted on Saturday, 24 March, 2007 - 11:31 am:   

Your employer isn't a fan of the European Working Time Directive,then? !
I find it hard to believe that people are 'OK' with this sort of lifestyle on anything but a short term basis. What about the effects on their relationships and family, assuming that they find time to have these.

I come into contact with city property and litigation lawyers in my job as we use them extensively and they often reveal the effects of the pressures and long hours on their personal lives. Also despite the UK working longer hours than the rest of Europe, productivity and GDP is not proportionally related to the length of hours spent at work. If people are working these hours through choice, find their work life immensely rewarding and challenging, and it works for them , then fine, but doubtless there are hidden ' costs' that will eventually catch up with them and society. Many do not find these hours pleasant nor do they find rewards in their work but have little choice. Having had a close family member break down due to workload pressures ( two posts were made redundant but the workload for both effectively passed to her in addition to her own job), I have witnessed the damaging effects that this can have on individuals and families.

Regardless of whether the press are correct in their assessment of the situation at the Tate Modern (this was not intended to be the main focus of this thread incidentally) what is wrong in the press stirring up debate about the long hours culture in UK workplaces? It is surely a valid discussion.

My own organisation does not suffer from this culture. We are still one of the top performers in our field in the UK and way beyond similar ' peer' organisations who do not have flexi time policies as we do, and where staff work to 8-9pm at night with little to show for it. It does therefore seem possible to work hard, be immensely productive, yet maintain a work life balance.
Joined 09-01-2007
Posted on Monday, 26 March, 2007 - 01:30 pm:   

Not wishing to sound too dramatic I had an almost life changing experience several years back. Like most people I was busily climbing the greasy pole when a new job came up in the large telecom company I worked for. I immediately applied. It was more work/responsibility for a bit more money. Before the interviews as luck would have it I was booked on a tour to Bulgaria of all places. There were about 15 or 16 on the trip and apart from myself they were pretty much all blue collar from factory workers to a joiner. Without exeption they all seemed much happier with their lives than I. It made me totally reassess what I was doing and why I was doing it. On returning I cancelled my application and I can honestly say I haven't looked back since. Sure I could have been earning more but I am much more content, generally more relaxed and never suffer from stress. Obviously its different strokes for different folks, but I'm sure there are many people who take on long hours and overly demanding jobs without really thinking why.
Joined 17-03-2005
Posted on Tuesday, 27 March, 2007 - 01:42 pm:   

It is surely each to their own really. Do I mind working the hours I do? Well I would rather sit on beach but I enjoy the work and the financial rewards are great and I have great family relationships.

As for EU directive - they do have it but you sign a piece of paper to opt out - other option is probably no job (not sure as don't think anyone ever not signed). But when applying for the job it is very clear that hours are long and you are rewarded for the downside that brings. It is then up to the individual if they wish to take the job or not.

There is a balance but where that is depends on personal view.
Joined 17-03-2005
Posted on Tuesday, 27 March, 2007 - 02:36 pm:   

Balance - I justify the stress and workload I currently go through on the grounds that it will enable me to get some freedom quicker than I otherwise would have. I find that most people though will always spend more than they earn, so even if they get wel paid, it only goes to support an ever more extravagant lifestyle (all of which is absolutely essential in keeping you ahead or up with your friends / colleagues).

What makes me happy? Travel, friends, health. I have no car, I do my upmost to avoid expensive restuarants and bars, avoid taxis, buy my clothes in sales or at discount places. I have a good life I think, but make that money stretch quite far. Plus I am very aware that things could take a downturn very quickly in life. It seems today's London is dominated by the attitude that the milk and honey will be flowing for a long time yet so what's the worry! Funnily enough reality has always been a rather painful slap in the face to such 'planning'.
Joined 17-03-2005
Posted on Tuesday, 27 March, 2007 - 09:55 pm:   

I still think that not everyone can choose whether or not to work long hours, and not everyone receives appropriate financial or other reward for these hours and their hard work. Where I worked a few years ago ( for 24k I hasten to add- per annum) the entire management team seemed to have no lives outside of work, and seemed to socialise only with each other. There was a resultant expectation that no one else left the office before 6.30pm each night and no one took flexi,( it was considered soft) and I was actually asked to keep my mobile switched on whilst on holiday. These were not well paid jobs but the workaholic management managed to instill a fear of 'being seen to go home' or go off duty in most staff. One colleague fostered her young child out to her parents during the week to cope with it. I thought this was a dreadful state of affairs. Others however complied with the regime and even campaigned for the abolition of the flexi time system in return of more pay.

Work intensification seems to be at the root of the problem, ie getting one person to do the job of three- saves money and the responsibility for delivering the goods is left on the shoulders of that one person.- they are told to do the necessary hours to deliver- the outcome is clear but how they get there is up to them. I have known for people to really suffer from this, some friends working from 7am to 7pm at night for a public sector organisation.

Teachers are considerably pressurised at the moment and what I can gather break all the rules of the EWTD. I am aware of nurses and other junior medical staff having to do double shifts and experiencing considerable pressure when they are 3 staff down on a key ward and the hospital won't pay for agency staff due to financial pressures. Perhaps another argument, but with all the advances in technology, why does working life seem to be getting so much worse for a large number of people.

The current pressures on the public sector to deliver services on a shoestring in the face of practically daily changing priorities, constant monitoring and filling in of forms and paperwork serves only to make us all clock and back watchers, and does nothing for service delivery or customer satisfaction- and can only be bad for the overall health and well being of those involved. Whats more is that Union membership and collective bargaining seems to be on the wane, so all the standard protections are being eroded bit by bit.