Forget work/life balance

Let’s ditch this work/life balance stuff. You can’t build a wall between work and life

If life only starts when you walk out of the office then what a waste of a day you’ve had. The idea of work/life balance – as a separation of two different parts of your existence – gives me the same bad vibes as the cliché of working your whole career for a carriage clock.

It was never about the clock though was it? Because there’s a heck of a lot of life lived at work.

Recently I heard a colleague taking one of those calls you dread: “Your Mum. She’s had a fall. You need to get to the hospital now.” And off she went. Of course she did. (She also worked late all the week before on an important funding bid I might add.)

Today I left work for a bit to meet my daughter, who was leaving primary school for the last time. I was mighty glad to be there for that important moment.

And then there’s the Millennial workforce. The work hard, play hard gang. A lot going on in work. A lot going on out of work. People who might get in early, go for a spin class, then come back two hours later and work late. People who weave ‘working life’ and ‘out of work life’ throughout their day; who want more than the standard two-week maximum holiday, without special ‘sign off’, to go off on an adventure.

But how well are organisations managing the life stuff of their employees, and also delivering on the lofty goals and demanding objectives of the business world? As the CEO of Missing People, a lifeline when someone disappears and an organisation that works 24/7 across the UK, I know how important it is to deliver on these business goals and objectives.

Of course there are plenty of people whose jobs are tied to a time and place, like our folk on the frontline of service delivery. And I can’t claim to have all the answers; we’re certainly not getting all of this right. But I do want our workplace to be somewhere you want to be and live.

I know we need process. We need rules to govern behaviour in the workplace. There might be people that push the limits, meaning this process needs to be called upon. But I think there’s a lot to be said for loyalty.

Who are you most loyal to? For me it’s always the friend who goes the extra mile to help you out. I’ve felt the same at work. It’s the colleagues who become real pals, who know about your ups and downs, who buy you a pint at the end of a full-on week.

I remember once tallying up extra time I’d worked and emailing my boss to ask if it was OK to take it back. I recieved a reply that pretty much melted me: “Gosh Jo, course, it’s the outcome that counts.” I remember the times when I’ve left early for a parent-teacher meeting, or for a sick child. The loyalty and flexibility I’ve been shown I think I’ve given back in spades.

In my early days as CEO of Missing People, on the day of our gala dinner, I got a call from my Dad. I thought he was ringing to wish me luck. But he actually said: “It’s bad news I’m afraid about Uncle J. He’s died.” I went home and sat on my sofa, numb. I met my brother and cried. And then we gathered ourselves through the afternoon and went to the gala. I really wanted to be there and I was lucky enough to be able to do that with the support of my family, hard as it was.

Our expectations about working worlds are changing. There are working dads as well as mums. And with an ageing population, more elderly relatives will need to depend on us for care – whether we’re working or not.

So let’s ditch this work/life balance stuff. You can’t simply build a wall between work and life. Instead let’s work out how to live life well at work, and get the job done.

Jo Youle is CEO of Missing People