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Work Life Balance

Do you have a good work life balance? and more helpfully, what can be done to improve it?

These were questions that we decided to investigate following from the 2013 Pulse survey and staff meeting in September 2013. The results were surprising and useful - I've tried to summarise them in these web pages. A few staff responded to an initial invitation and I have spoken to many more since then, but without any systematic survey.


General conclusions:

The overwhelming majority of people were content with their work life balance.

There was a common pattern for staff with younger families; they might be working at 11pm but used the freedom they had earlier in the day when it mattered to their family. They usually kept the weekends free of work.

Some of the most productive members of staff had the most satisfaction with the balance. The GTD, Getting Things Done, time management strategy was a common feature.

Tips and Tricks

In no particular order these were techniques people described that made a difference to them.

  • Have separate home and work email addresses, even different clients
  • Keep the weekends free
  • Using GTD to manage tasks.
  • Doing the chores in the working day. "I then do what I choose in the evening ... it might still be physics, but that is my choice"
  • Be prepared to say "No" to some requests - best to do that early, not after having it in your in-tray for a month!
  • For a boring job, work at it hard for 25 minutes and then take a 5 minute break.
  • Think twice before sending a potentially unwelcome email in the evening (you can use delay delivery: see below)
  • One of our star postgraduates said their approach was to work "9 to 5" on the physics and had an active life outside their PhD studies - it can be done, and may well be more healthy.
  • "It's easier to be a good father than a good husband" So ... make time for what is important to you.

Conversations were confidential, but if anyone wants due credit for their contribution, then I'm more than happy to oblige.

Time Management

We have enough examples from successful staff to show that balance is achievable in principle. In practice it requires good time management. There are a host of schemes, advice, and books available. It was striking that two members of staff used GTD and used the same software to implement it (on a Mac). I've produced a separate web page for how to implement most of GTD using outlook.

All time management schemes have some common features. You don't need to go on a course to use them, but you ignore them at your peril. They are primarily about control of your in-tray: Look at things once and deal with them. Delete, delegate, do it, file it, schedule it as part of a longer project etc. The idea is to avoid the time-wasting and distraction of a long pile of tasks that need to be looked through repeatedly. Consider time away from email or at least not looking at the Inbox.

Changes we are Making

Menacing emails in the evening.

Two completely unrelated comments were about the unpleasant effect of getting a demanding work email in the evening. To some extent this is your choice about receiving work emails at home, but we are conscious that you might be happy using Warwick email to work on a research collaboration, but not want a message asking "what is your plan for dealing with xxx?". Outlook email, under Options tab has a delay delivery button, so you can compose an email at 10pm and send it out after 7am the next day for example. Robin has started using that. The general request is think about the effect of the evening or weekend email that you are sending. It is a useful conversation that you could have with your colleagues to establish email protocols.

Performance management and work life balance

Again two completely unrelated comments (different people, different job categories, different clusters) that their line manager was putting them under pressure to work longer hours. We need to be clear that performance management has to focus on what can be achieved in a regular working week. Of course a line manager has a duty to deal with poor performance and we cannot hide from the fact that standards for academic performance at Warwick are very high, but the conversations should be about productivity, setting priorities and sadly in some cases about capability. Requiring longer hours of work is not appropriate. Apart from the detrimental affect on work life balance, a long hours culture would be harmful to our equality and diversity goals.

Looking Ahead

Talk about it

Share your concerns, habits, best practice etc. It is clear that people appreciate talking about how they work and live. Try to establish working patterns that suit you, and your colleagues, and your line manager. Do you want 20 reminders to do a chore or a single request and a due date - the latter would surely be better for everyone. Do you want to spend a day a week at home completing that important paper or grant application? If so talk about it.

New ideas?

This can be a dynamic set of web pages. Feed through new ideas, tips, tricks or comments and I'll try to incorporate them.

Thanks for all your help, Mark Hadley