No such thing as spare time

career o'clock, clock on wall

By Michelle Wright, founder and CEO of Cause4

Friday 21st June is Go Home on Time day.

For many entrepreneurs and business managers, especially women, this doesn’t sound like something that could be achieved, even for a day.

After ten years running my own business, there is pressure to work hours way beyond what is healthy.  Too often flexibility and trying to maintain a work life balance can make this juggle even more difficult.

As a single parent of two small children, running a B Corporation that employs a small diverse team – we have to operate flexibly.  If I am going to manage workload, nursery drop off and client calls then I need to be flexible, and we also offer this flexibility to our team, some for childcare, some to better manage mental health issues or, in the case of one employee, a small holding.

According to the old mantra, women can’t have it all. I think we have to compromise, but often compromise can be for the better.  I have learned that small really is beautiful. We yearn for systems within our control and comprehension, that provide space for human interaction – and yet we are constantly overwhelmed by finding ourselves trapped into business structures that just don’t make sense to us.

As entrepreneurs, we’re told that bigger is best, that we should concentrate on growth at all costs and that we should be measured on turnover and the numbers of staff we employ. But that approach can lead to long hours spent at work or thinking about work which can result in misery, burn out and poor mental health. Too many modern organisations have stripped the satisfaction out of work. And, if you’re the person in charge, the responsibility can drive you to think that everything will go wrong if you take your mind off the job, even for a moment.

But if you are also working flexibly, or if you have clients in different continents, or small children that don’t sleep well, then you can still find yourself working long hours. My bit of compromise is that to manage my family life I recognized that inevitably work creeps into early mornings or evenings and definitely weekends. Is that bad, probably yes? But would I change it to have to work in a more structured way without my family life? No.

There’s still too much focus on time spent in the office, despite technology allowing us to be free from our desks like never before. Leaders of businesses need to take the lead. Punk musician Henry Rollins puts it well: “No such thing as spare time, no such thing as free time, no such thing as down time, all you got is lifetime.”

So, I think we need to ignore the ‘bigger is best’ mentality, and go back to human needs and human relationships, and from that springs the ethical response of how we manage our environment and ultimately get happier. We’ve been refocusing our company, Cause4, to measure what matters rather than focussing on the growth charts or the hours each member of staff spends at work.

We can all free ourselves from the rigidity of the 9-5 and shake up the concept that success at work means compartmentalising our home life and work life.  All too often they bleed into each other and maybe that’s not a problem.  Maybe going home on time won’t require a national day. Maybe we can all learn to manage our days and our mix of responsibilities by forgetting about clocking up the hours or counting the bottom line, and instead try to measure the satisfaction we enjoy through our careers and families.

Michelle Wright - landscape photoAbout the author

Michelle Wright is founder and CEO of Cause4, a B Corporation launched in May 2009 to support charities, social enterprises and philanthropists in development and fundraising across the charity, arts, sports and educational sectors.

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