Feature Story 01-Sep-2010
You’re finding you or your partner spending more and more time at work at the expense of family time. What’s the answer? The Australian lifestyle is famed for its laid-back nature and in Queensland that often appears to be the case.
It might surprise you then that a 2007 survey by the International Labour Organization found that 20% of workers in Australia work more than 48 hours per week (that’s third highest in the developed world and perhaps surprisingly, more than in the US).
People work long hours for all sorts of reasons: simply to make ends meet, to maintain a preferred lifestyle for the family, because it’s an overtime requirement or they hold a belief that long hours prove they are doing a ‘good’ job.
Pam, a 36-year-old full-time mum thinks it is something else. She says her husband, Phil, lives for his work at the exclusion of everything else.
“Over the past few years the time he spends on work has become more and more – it invades every part of our lives,” she says. Pam and Phil have been married for 12 years and she says long work hours didn’t affect their early days together. “We were both in full-time work then and we just moved seamlessly between work and time together,” she explains. “We were building our life, getting a home together and enjoying ourselves, all of those things.
Now we just seem to be further and further apart – all he thinks about is work.”
Working long hours when needed shouldn’t be confused with an addiction to work.
Some of us work long hours, some or all of the time, but when we get home we are able to turn our attention to the other parts of our lives and can happily leave work behind us.
A workaholic is not able to make that distinction. They work, or think about work, not because they’re forced to, but because they need, or choose, to. This obsession with work can have negative effects on home life, as Pam attests to. She says she is starting to resent more and more the way in which Phil continually turns his attention to work.“We moved to the Coast from Brisbane three years ago, just before our eldest started school,” she says.
“I stopped working when we had the kids and Phil did then take on a bigger job to keep our finances going.”
Pam says they had a great opportunity to move to a coastal lifestyle when Phil was asked to open up a new office for his company on the Sunshine Coast.
“I understood that Phil needed to put in longer hours to get the new office up and running,” Pam says. “And I was busy getting our new home together and settling the kids in – everything was good at the start.”
Phil now commutes to Brisbane one or two days each week, usually getting home late in the evening. It’s not those days that Pam resents, but the time that he spends on work when he is at home.
She says he makes an effort to get home early on his ‘local’ work days, but after spending time with the kids he switches on his laptop and is distracted for the rest of the evening. Pam says her resentment comes from feeling in second place all of the time to Phil’s work and taking on more and more of their parenting alone.
“I often go to the kids’ events on my own now,” she says. “Our eldest just accepts that more often than not Daddy won’t be coming.”
She and Phil are increasingly having disagreements about the time he spends focused on work.“I know much of it is that he wants to provide a good lifestyle for all of us,” she says, “but some days I just want our old life back.”
Being work addicted isn’t just the domain of those in paid employment.
Full-time mum Danielle was shocked when she drew up her weekly schedule.
“I just don’t stop from morning until night,” she says.
Danielle’s two children are aged seven and five and she says since her eldest started school she’s become more and more busy.“My day is book-ended by the school runs,” she says, “but I’m always busy during the day and in the evenings too.”
Danielle has become involved with what she says is an ever-increasing number of school committees and projects.“I help in pre-school with remedial reading and writing and another class with maths, I’m involved with the P&C and the environmental sub-committee and the canteen working party,” she says. These days when I take the girls to school I find I’m trying to hide.
“There’s always someone wanting to get me involved in something else. I think I’m seen as someone who will get involved.”
As well as attending committee meetings at school, Danielle is often there working on projects in the gardens and she’s actively involved in its waste management initiatives.
Between all those activities she squeezes in housework, shopping and out-of-school activities.“I don’t stop until at least eight o’clock at night,” she says, “and all day I’m rushing from one thing to the next.”
Danielle can’t believe she’s recently started up a gardening business with a friend. “Right now it’s just one morning a week, but if that gets bigger then I’ll need a rethink.” What about time for herself and family time? “I have a personal trainer twice a week, that’s really important,” she says, “and I plan in a couple of hours to spend with my friends eachweek.
“The girls have a couple of things on Saturdays that I get them to, but the rest of our weekend is time we spend all together whenever we can.”
Danielle says the way she manages her very full schedule is by having a strict structure.“My days are mapped out around my commitments at school,” she says.
“I just want to know I’m doing things that are making the girls’ life better and making their surroundings better too. “That’s why the environmental committee is important. “I do feel I’m on a fairground ride that never stops some days, and the girls have to be a bit regimented.
What drives people to spend more and more time focused on work?
Sunshine Coast business and life coach Marc de Bruin looks at work addiction in a personality-based context. He says there’s nothing wrong with being a workaholic as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else.
“An issue of work-life balance only comes up when something goes wrong,” he says. “When life gets out of whack, then you need to do something.”
Marc works with his clients using AusIDentities’ temperament types. AusIdentities give a distinctly Australian nature to four personality types; Wombat, Kangaroo, Eagle and Dolphin. He says it is underlying values, dictated by type, that drive behaviours.
“Take the Wombat,” he says. “The values that drive this temperament are duty and responsibility which can lead to self-sacrifice.
“Personal success for many, not all Wombats, is usually around providing for the family and living up to the expectations of others, work or non-work related and they will persist with that even if it’s not good for them.”
For this temperament, he says, the norm is to achieve belonging and acceptance and the Wombat will work hard towards that.
Marc says the Eagle is driven by perfectionism and generally, no matter what they do, nothing is good enough.“The Eagle has a need for things to be done better and they can’t stop until it’s right,” Marc says. “Of course, it’s never right.”
Kangaroos constantly need to do more to get better results more quickly and are motivated by instant gratification.“They’re more sensory, for a Kangaroo life revolves around making an impact,” Marc says. “They need to experience life in terms of results.”
Lastly, a Dolphin’s sense of self-worth is normally related to how they portray themselves to others, they need acknowledgement.“They have a constant hunger for knowledge too,” Marc says. “Dolphins can become stuck in a world of constant learning.”
Recognising behaviours, Marc says, is the first step in self-awareness.
“A workaholic needs to ask themselves ‘why am I working so hard?’, ‘who am I trying to please?’, ‘what am I needing to prove?’ and ‘is this a healthy way of doing it?’”
Marc says if you don’t like the results of long work hours, look at the values driving them. Daring to admit that something might be wrong can take a lot of guts and redressing the balance isn’t necessarily easy.
“A change might involve a reduction in working hours,” Marc says. “It doesn’t need to be drastic.
“You can do that gradually and look at different ways of using free time, spending it with the family or on yourself.”
What would Marc say to someone in Pam’s position?
“Get together and discuss what each of you want and don’t want from your relationship, the positives and negatives,” he says. “List them, see where the differences are and how to approach them.
“Find a workable medium for how to bring the results you want, and keep the conversation going.
“The most important thing is to keep an open and honest line of communication going.”
You know you’re a workaholic when...
You’ve started taking your laptop to bed
Your kids look confused when you get home
You find yourself driving to work when you’re headed somewhere else
Your family feign shock when you’re home in time for dinner
You’ve been caught again sneaking a look at your Blackberry
Your dreams are about work
Your boss is number one on your speed dial
You’re always wondering how you can get back to work
You’re sure the world will end if you’re not available to work
Your partner gets dinner delivered to your desk
Putting life in balance
Identify real and attainable short term goals that will bring your life closer into balance
Don’t try to go it alone. You need the support of your family, friends and workplace Set boundaries between your work space and personal space
Consider your employer’s position and approach them with practical and reasonable ways to achieve a better and mutually beneficial balance.