I remember having a conversation with a senior manager at British Steel – one of the handful of conversations you have in your life that you always remember. He was looking a little depressed…
“Teenagers, Ed. Taxi and a cash dispenser, that’s all I am. I try and impart a bit of wisdom – they think I’m an idiot.”
I made some sort of non-committal noise and wondered if maybe the children communicated with his wife.
“How would I know? We haven’t spoken for about three months. I might as well move my bed into the office. To tell you the truth, I’m only happy when I’m at work. Domestic bliss? You can keep it…”
At the time Dav and I had been living together for six weeks. Domestic bliss? Too right…
And yet as I’ve grown older and worked in several large companies I’ve seen the same pattern over and over again. Perhaps not expressed quite as forcibly as my old manager, but there nevertheless. People coming into the office earlier and earlier; starting to arrange meetings at 6pm so they’re forced to stay late; grabbing any excuse to be away overnight.
In Christopher Hitchens’ excellent book Hitch-22 he quotes his father, a retired naval commander, as saying “The war was the only time when I really felt I knew what I was doing.” Swap ‘work’ for ‘war’ and the gist of that sentence seems to be true for all too many people.
Work is the place where they feel fulfilled, happy and safe – whereas home is a foreign country. I see so many business owners working longer and longer hours, mistakenly thinking that the only way to beat the recession is to throw more hours at it. You have to provide for your family? Of course you do – but that means providing time as well as money. A bigger pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is all very fine – but not at the expense of watching your children’s football or ballet. And especially if the effort of providing the pot of gold means you’re not there to share it.
So let’s do something about that, shall we? Let me throw down a challenge – not just to the members of my TAB boards – but everyone who reads the blog. (And yes, the challenge includes my TAB colleagues.)
TAB is about getting what you want from your business and your life. It’s about remembering the importance of your Work/Life Balance. It’s about recognising – as I wrote this time last year – that there’s not much point climbing to the top of the mountain if there’s no-one with you to share the view.
This is when we’re all making plans and setting goals for next year. So my challenge is simple: your list of goals for 2013 must contain at least as many home/family life goals as it contains work ones.
After all the latest Government survey seems to prove that money is a long way from being the sole determinant of happiness. And I’m conscious that as some of my TAB boards start to mature we need to widen the focus away from the sales targets and the bottom line to look at the broader picture. So I’ll be asking all my board members to have goals for 2013 that reflect what they want from business and – just as importantly – what they want from life.
As Bill Clinton might have said, “It’s the work/life balance, stupid.”