Lighten your load, win back your life


Fathers can find better ways to balance their careers and home duties. Kath Lockett reports.

Many Australian men, probably too many, leave for work in the dark and come home in the dark after a 10-hour day. Sound familiar?

The Australia Institute has found that if the average Australian worked the same hours as workers in other wealthy countries, they would be able to take off the rest of the year from November 20. Sadly, the institute discovered that 58 per cent of workers don't use all their leave entitlements each year because they're too busy at work or can't get leave that suits them.

And this directly contradicts what Australians believe is most important: family and partner relationships (60 per cent), health (18 per cent) and work fulfilment (2 per cent).

But there's a glimmer of hope: in the US Work+Life Fit Reality Check survey, 94 per cent of full-time workers would be willing to reduce their hours or take a pay cut to gain more work-life balance. Promisingly, despite the global financial crisis, 98 per cent of them believe their workplace still offers achievable work-life flexibility.

More working men are sharing domestic tasks with their partners and making a bigger effort to carve out free time. This can still be difficult when the housework piles up in front of the corporate ladder.

The executive general manager of Hudson Recruitment Victoria, Scott Stacey, has found that the GFC, while affecting the business, has brought an unexpected benefit.

"Hudson invited our staff to support the business through taking extra leave or working flexible hours," he says.
Stacey chose to work a nine-day fortnight and has used this time to recuperate by swimming, walking, catching up with friends, doing chores that can't be done on weekends and reading.

"I have definitely noticed that this is helping me get some balance into my life," he says. "I work long hours when I am in the office and the day off has helped with my general demeanour, as well as with my energy levels before and after the day off.

"I now plan around the day so that I can take the day and enjoy myself. My executive assistant is also very good at ensuring I am not disturbed on the day unless absolutely necessary, so this helps."


This measure is only intended to be a short-term arrangement but Stacey concedes it will be difficult to readjust when he returns to full-time work next year.

"Many senior leaders feel they are too important to possibly leave their business a day a fortnight," he says. "The reality is that the business won't stop if you are not there for a day and the flexibility may just help you do your job better."

When statistics also show that women are earning and contributing more to household incomes and the numbers of men choosing to work part-time are increasing, the opportunities for fathers to achieve a better work-life balance are there.

More working men are sharing domestic tasks with their partners and making a bigger effort to carve out free time. This can still be difficult when the housework piles up in front of the corporate ladder.

Jon, a GP, agrees: "We have a cleaner once a week. It's a luxury but we both work full-time and it frees up our weekends to be able to spend time with our two kids. Besides, we both hate doing the housework."

Executive assistant Paul is childless but has also made changes to his working life. "I may not have kids but work-life balance is essential for everyone," he says. "I was eligible for paid study leave and my manager approved my starting earlier in the mornings to leave earlier for evening lectures.

"This arrangement makes me feel more valued and motivated to complete the course. It's obvious that employers who offer work-life balance conditions will retain their key staff."

Benefits can appear without notice. Ronnie is a freelance art director who found himself with a redundancy package after 20 years in the advertising industry. He now works from home.

"I get to walk my two kids to school, take my son to tae-kwan-do lessons and feel more a part of their lives," he says. "I know their teachers, what's going on in their lives, who their friends are. Plus I can plan my work around the needs of my family – there's nothing stopping me from drawing an ad concept at midnight or midday in the dining room if I want to.
"The flexibility is great."

What can you do to seize more life outside work?

  • Find out what flexible working options and policies your workplace has. Yes, they do exist. Read them and visit your HR department.
  • Consider working earlier or later to gain time for exercise, seeing the children and running errands before or after standard working hours.
  • Arrange to work from home when detailed work needs to be done without interruptions.
  • Seek out men who already have flexible working arrangements. How did they do it? How does it fit in with their workmates and what are the benefits?
  • Let your colleagues know; flexible arrangements can only work when everyone knows how and when they can contact you.

This article has been supplied by My Career.

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