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5 things about balance, 15.8.2016

1. I’ve been thinking a lot about balance this week. Not the Olympic gymnastics kind (although, how do they DO that?!) More the work-life balance kind. Which is a ridiculous phrase; work and life are not two separate things. And yet it’s a term we all instinctively understand. Nobody needs an explainer. What we do need, maybe, is a different term that encompasses the lack of balance in – oh, say, just pulling this out of my hat – the hausfrau life. Family life is commonly supposed to be what you need to balance with work, but hausfrau work is 100% family life. So: ridiculous phrase. 

2. So “work-life balance” is usually bandied about in conversations about conventional jobs: how flexible hours etc can ease the stress of working parents. Of course, because the phrase just as readily accommodates the balance between work and play, it muddies the waters a bit; an employer can promise “good work-life balance” while meaning “we do a lot of fun team-building stuff like sports clubs that might happen after hours but it’s all about balanced lives, right?!”. And every parent knows that time spent on childcare is not even a distant relation of “time off”, no matter what your office colleagues think is going on in your maternity leave. (I’ll cop to that. I totally thought maternity leave was a nice quiet restful idea. Yeah.) But having it all bundled together as “work-life balance” means parenting obligations are given the same weight as spending your evenings down by the lake – which, yay! That is an excellent thing and that kind of balance is vitally important! But it’s optional in a way that parenting isn’t, and that distinction needs to be acknowledged better. (While the distinction between at-home and away-from-home expenses needs to be removed. Both are examples of ways in which the workplace is still geared so much towards men, or at least, those who do not have primary responsibility for childcare.) 

3. I’m not diminishing the importance of balance for the child-free, though. Not at all. I’m actually a passionate advocate of part-time working (when feasible). Since graduating, I’ve hardly ever held a full-time job; when I did, I pretty soon cut the hours down to 60%. You think I’m lazy? Well, I’ve used those extra hours to do everything from get a second degree to start a business, so… I’d dispute that. But even if it was purely “free time”, I think that’s extremely valuable. Less time “at work” means more time to spend with yourself, and while that will probably benefit card-carrying introverts such as myself more than those weirdos among you who need to be around people all the time, it also means more breathing room. Less entanglement in office politics. More opportunity to develop other parts of yourself, other interests, which may well serve you extremely well in your “proper job” and will certainly make you a more rounded and happy human being. Even a full-time position that allows for part-time working from home is significantly more balanced, between the time saved on commuting and the time it allows for quiet, solo working.

4. I interviewed for a Proper Job this week. A proper, 100% job that would be the most corporate environment I’ve worked in since my office temp days (ie at university). There’s a lot about this position that is exciting, a lot that is a bit scary (and scary is good, probably), but the one major problem is the hours. They don’t do part-time, and they don’t do telecommuting. It’s a culture thing, they explained; they place great value on the benefit of having people around to talk to each other and share ideas. (We could call this the Marissa Mayer principle, and yes, it is a tech company.) I get it. I don’t think their logic is wrong. If I work from home one day a week, that’s probably not a lot of collaboration lost, but if I do then others should, and you end up with an office that’s always missing a substantial part of the team, and… yeah. Okay. It’s a fair position, but it’s a big problem for me. For the reasons given above, and for childcare reasons, and – to be quite frank? Because I seriously doubt they can keep me busy for five days a week. Which sounds cocky as hell. But I’m a ridiculously fast worker, and I hate downtime. I mean, actual leisure is great, obviously. But time spent at a desk when I’ve run out of work and I’m supposed to magically look busy and stay motivated… Come. On. No. 

5. So I’m facing the prospect of (potentially) being offered a pretty good job, certainly the best opportunity I’ve had in years and maybe the best I’m likely to have,* after years of moaning incessantly about not having a job, and I’m bitter. I’m bitter because at home, things are just starting to get easier. Kids are growing. One more year and Pumuckl will be in kindergarten, meaning five mornings a week all to myself (plus one afternoon, minus school holidays and sickness, etc). Even now, I have enough time that I can get at least some stuff done, enjoy at least some quiet time, start pulling the frayed threads of myself together. And NOW I should get a full-time job? A job that, yes, will give me adult time and let me use my brain and feel like a person again and earn my own money… but a job that will drain me of energy, make the housekeeping burden harder to manage, and potentially make the kids needier when I am around. 

There’s no balance, is what I’m saying. After years of full-time monster wrangling, I have to go full-time corporate? Just when things were almost maybe getting good? Come. On.

PS. Yes. I know exactly how bratty this is. Complaining about full-time work, which is not only the default position but a great privilege compared with everyone who’s either stuck with MORE than full-time work or less work than they need? Complaining about a regular job, when I’ve been complaining all this time about not having a regular job? Bratty.

PPS. I also know I am absolutely getting ahead of myself. But this is not about me getting the job (although based on interview I think, if I don’t, that will almost certainly be because of the hours problem). This is me reflecting on how I feel about just the possibility of such a job, and about jobs and balance in general.

* My background is in publishing. English-language publishing in Switzerland, certainly in Zürich, is virtually non-existent. So I need to make a switch to, say, corporate communications; but I don’t have a corporate CV. Opportunities are very damn thin on the ground.

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2 thoughts on “5 things about balance, 15.8.2016

  1. I just read this and though I’m rather late to comment, this kind of attitude from an employer make me very cross. I think that any company that doesn’t allow any part-time or flexible/home working (for non-practical reasons) does have their logic all wrong and is rapidly becoming a dinosaur. I thought that before I spent the last 6 months reading all the academic research on this topic and even before I had kids (though the best I managed pre-kids was 90%!). I wouldn’t want to work there, but, having said that, I have never turned down any job that I’ve been offered so I’m not sure I would have the balls to turn one down because of the hours.

    1. Right?! I get where they’re coming from, but I think they’re wrong. Mind you I also think everyone would be more productive if encouraged to work shorter hours, but good luck getting employers on board with that.I don’t think I could have turned it down, either, short of prospects as I am. (I have turned down opportunities in the past for this reason.) But it made it a lot easier not to fight for it. That company had other red flags going, too, so… I’m not gutted. It has given me a lot more feels about the whole job hunt thing, though.

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