Luke Blair: Handling work-life balance amid the penny-pinching

There are many unintended consequences of belt-tightening and penny-pinching, especially in the public sector. Being urged to deliver 'more for less' creates a strain on public finances, on timescales, on resources, and on people.

Luke Blair: Doing more for less puts a strain on people's lives
Luke Blair: Doing more for less puts a strain on people's lives

As managers of communications programmes, or project managers in charge of delivering communications-focused activity, our response to these pressures is often to be more careful in the way we plan activity.

We become more focused on detail, with more appetite for project plans presented to the same level of sophistication as those Gantt charts produced by management consultants.  I have even heard PR people talking about ‘Prince2’, and genuinely sounding as though they know what it means.

More detailed work planning answers a lot of the questions about tighter budgets, tighter resources and tighter timescales.  But what it does not do is plan people’s lives more carefully for them.

And it is the impact on people, and in particular their work-life balance, that seems to me one of the worst consequences of the current downturn.  All over London, office lights are staying on until later and later in the evening.  More emails are being sent in the evening, at weekends, during downtime and at the pub.  

We can blame technology for some of this, since it has unquestionably blurred the distinction between work and life.  On linkedin and facebook I have work contacts, friends, family, and indeed none of the above, all jumbled up in the same lists.

I even went through a short period trying to keep both a conventional mobile phone and a smartphone in different pockets, so I could physically keep work and non-work messages apart.  It didn’t last long and I am now part of the iPhone population, which as we know increased by 35 million users in the last quarter.  

But technology – created either by Mr Jobs or Mr Gantt – is not really the answer to any of this.  Relieving the pressure on work-life balance due to harsh economic times, in the public sector as elsewhere, depends on people taking action themselves and being even more careful to maintain the separation between home and office.

As their managers we need to support them in being able to achieve this, and make sure we do the same thing ourselves in managing our own lives.

Make sure time off is taken, holiday allowances are used in full, ‘urgent’ out of hours calls or emails are kept to just that – the urgent ones – and plenty of opportunities for social activities and relaxation are created.  Buying a drink occasionally helps, in moderation.

Then again, everyone manages things in their own ways.  I did once interview someone who planned their social life on an Excel spreadsheet.  But they were pretty unusual.  And I did not hire them.


Luke Blair is a director at London Communications Agency

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