Balancing work and life:imperative, not impossible
Double Lives published last year is a story of the extraordinary
achievements of ten fascinating individuals who not only lived more than one
life but who were incredibly successful at each of them.
David Heenan who is himself quite accomplished as a corporate executive as
well as a successful writer the book recounts the lives and achievements of
persons who may be known for their remarkable achievements in one field
while carrying on separate roles with almost equally successful results.
features personalities from politics (Winston Churchill,
author/artist/orator/statesman), business (Norio Ohga, Sony
chairman/professional opera singer/licensed jet pilot/symphony conductor),
science (Sally Ride, physicist/astronaut/ professional tennis player/
entrepreneur), international finance (James Wolfensohn, Olympic
fencer/cellist/arts baron/World Bank President) and for good measure
mortician (Thomas Lynch, funeral director/poet).
exception of the legendary Winston Churchill, all the characters in the book
are contemporary, although some are less well-known than others as are their
alter-egos. That in no way diminishes them or their secondary (??)
achievements which, in a world where specialisation is considered the only
route to excellence, would normally exclude the performance of any but the
most basic of roles.
does not give any indication of the basis of his selection and why he went
mainly for contemporary personalities rather than from the long list of
lives long expired but of arguably equal and greater achievements.
Not that he
is not aware of them. In fact, in the first and thorough chapter of the book
titled The case for a Double Life he refers to the achievements of Jacques
Cousteau, sailor/explorer/environmentalist/writer; Ron Bass, lawyer turned
Oscar-winning screenwriter; Leonardo Da Vinci who excelled in painting
including the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper, science, architecture,
engineering and sculpture; Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. And the
Foreword by Warren Bennis refers to Wallace Stevens, "arguably the greatest
American poet who spent his days as an insurance executive," and Richard
Feynman, Nobel laureate, outstanding physicist, writer and popular lecturer.
or surprising for an American, Heenan puts the book in the context of 9/11
and the realisation by New Yorkers and the rest of America that many of the
paradigms which they had assumed had shaped their lives no longer applied,
and that they needed to "rethink their priorities, seek greater flexibility
and control over their lives."
This new way
of looking at the world involves risks and takes courage, sometimes
requiring the sacrifice of money and security for dreams and life's
passions. It takes courage, especially in the absence of job security
accelerated by technological advances, the exporting of jobs increasing
competition, and what Heenan describes as "the mounting disloyalty of the
institutions that once provided lifetime security for employees."
notes, perhaps not quite convincingly, that Double Lives "is not confined to
high-profile geniuses" and has one overriding point of view; anyone can
craft a double life - all he or she needs to scale new heights are
imagination and drive and some helpful tools to aid the process. If only it
were that simple! Balancing work and life is a challenge which few have
mastered, not least because it is not always entirely within one's control
or resources. The measure of the challenge has been recognised not only
among individuals, employers, employees and in homes, but also within
countries, and two notable efforts at promoting work-life balance at the
national level have been made in
and the United Kingdom.
balance is now seen as critical to employees' morale, health and
productivity, employers' profitability and performance, and countries'
competitiveness. In the UK, the Department of Trade and Industry sees
employers benefiting from having a more productive, loyal and less-stressed
workforce, as well as maximizing available labour, making employees feel
valued, attracting a wider range of candidates, increasing productivity,
reducing absenteeism and earning the reputation of being an employer of
benefit from being happier at work and at home, as well as having greater
responsibility and a sense of ownership, better relations with the
management, improved self-esteem, health, concentration and confidence,
loyalty and commitment, less inclination to bring problems at home to work
and vice versa, the time to focus more on life outside work and greater
control of their working lives.
done considerable research on the question of work-life balance, and
independent studies have been done to obtain the views of the country's
workers. The findings are quite instructive and relevant to us in
where the brain drain impacts adversely at every level in every organisation.
The study by Dr Linda Duxbury and Dr Christopher Higgins found that personal
relationships suffer for those who work 'long hours,' inhibiting even such
basic and necessary activities as holding a conversation, maintaining
regular contact with spouse and children, who according to respondents
complained that they don't see enough of the parent.
found that 56% of 'long hours' workers say that they have dedicated too much
of their life to work, 40% of those working more than 48 hours per week
reported that working long hours has resulted in arguments with their spouse
or partner in the last year and the same proportion feel guilty that they
are failing to pull their weight on the domestic front. Among the other
findings and conclusions of the report are some less contentious but not
necessarily simple issues such as: work-life balance is a complex
phenomenon; many factors contribute to high work-life conflict; work and
life are not separate domains.
Canadians are having difficulties balancing work and family because
organizations are not taking the issue seriously and are not treating it as
a business issue; some Canadians are having problems balancing work and
family because of conditions at home; work-life conflict may be impairing
the health of many Canadians and creating problems within the family. The
culture of the organisation, which is set by the behaviour at the top, can
sabotage the best attempts by organisations to help employees balance work
and family. Many Canadians feel that they are in a no-win situation with
respect to balance - advance in their career or have a meaningful life
outside of work; temporary and part-time work has made balance more
problematic for many. People who are not financially self-sufficient have
more problems balancing work and family.
findings are particularly troubling in a country that is consistently among
the leaders in the UNDP Human Development Report which ranks countries by a
set of economic and social indicators. While it is better that the USA where
about 80% of the workforce are not happy with their current jobs, there is
enough dissatisfaction among employees about the impact of work on their
personal lives. No doubt employers will take a somewhat different view from
the findings of a study of employees only and given human nature, it is not
altogether surprising that for every Canadian whose personal or family
circumstances are interfering with performance at work, there are five
Canadians whose work and work circumstances are seen by the workers as
interfering with their family and their life.
some interesting lessons to be learnt from the Canadian study, not only
because it seems to be a country of choice for migration by Guyanese, but
because of the relevance of some of the findings. Tell any local worker
whether in agriculture, commerce or the public sector, all of whom are
earning salaries that are barely adequate to meet the cost of living; tell
the manager who as a result of migration is forced to operate well beyond
his capacity; tell the employer who is barely managing to meet his debt
obligations to avoid what he considers to be the 'tough decisions,' and one
is hardly likely to be taken seriously. They will probably conclude that
work-life balance is a first-world issue not relevant to Guyana.
is, however, far more complex, and will inevitably lead into the proverbial
chicken and egg discussion. Work-life balance is a human resource issue with
implications that reverberate well beyond the worker or the employer,
affecting the entire country. However, with falling trade union membership,
economic difficulties at the firm and national levels and a culture that
sees human-resource issues as being the softer side of the entity merely
serving to enhance the bottom line, it would be difficult for work-life
balance to arouse much interest. Yet if we want even to dream about David
Heenan's Double Lives, it is important that our employers, the Private
Sector Commission and perhaps CAGI, our trade unions and the government
address the issue as critical to both our personal and economic well-being.
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