The end to a good work life balance

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A survey of job seekers around the world, who found work in 2015, revealed that 76% were interested in working on a freelance basis, including 23% who were already doing so.

The report, “Job Seeker Trends 2016: Increasing Global Mobility”, jointly produced by The Boston Consulting Group and Recruit Works Institute, highlights the growing flexibility of work forces around the world, as well as the need for companies to adapt in order to attract talent.

However, another 2015 study, by accounting software company Xero, found that 76% of small business owners have sacrificed a holiday to business obligations and that this trend is on the rise.

Freelancing, whether full time, or through side businesses like Uber or Etsy, has given us more freedom to define our working day, but it has also blurred the lines between professional and personal time.

Does it spell the end to a good work life balance?

Psychologists and freelancers say no, that the key to our success and happiness still lies in keeping strict boundaries. Many believe that flexibility must be combined with structure, to keep work meaningful and to avoid stress.

Dr Gary Wood, a chartered psychologist and author of personal development books, including “Unlock Your Confidence” urges freelancers and the self-employed “to structure as much as you can”.

“First of all if you can have a proper place to work so you try to avoid working on the kitchen table. Try and keep your home and the place that you work as separate as possible,” he said.

“The next thing would be to block out some time that is just for you,” Wood added. “It’s about finding things in the week that are your fixed points – it might be a class, it might be the gym, it’s something that pins your week,” he said.

“You have to anchor your time and that will help to overcome the stress.”

As a psychologist, Wood warns people against the temptation of overworking their brain. “The brain needs a break,” he said.

“We’ve got a sense that productivity equals hours spent. We don’t actually count productivity on results,” Wood argued. “So we need to get rid of this idea that money’s worth is equivalent to hours spent.”

Emma Vandore, who runs her own storytelling and communications consultancy, Kagisha Ltd, working from a log cabin in her garden on the outskirts of London, said she had to run her operation “like an efficiency machine, every second counts!”

Her attitude to work evolved when she had her first child last year. “My daughter is in nursery from 7.30am until 6.30pm four days a week and I need to get everything done that requires concentration in those times,” said Vandore.

“Now I have to be very organised – I make daily and weekly charts of what needs done by when – and sometimes I have to say no.”

When she is tempted by distractions, Vandore reminds herself that this is time she is paying someone else to be with her daughter. She avoids over-tiredness by not working after her baby has gone to sleep.

“The dividing line between work and leisure is pretty fuzzy in a lot of what I do anyway,” she said. “I have taken my daughter along to business lunches and conferences, and been on the computer while she is strapped to me in a sling.

Obviously not everyone is understanding of this approach, but those who would accuse me of not being professional have not seen my work.”

Vandore has chosen to build her own business, but she believes employers can adapt to help their staff by allowing more flexibility.

“A committed and productive employee will be so whether they are working from home or in an office. I get a huge amount more done working in my home office where there are no distractions. I also save three hours per day on a commute into London,” she said.

Antonia Mochan, co-founder of Freelance Australia, an organisation that supports the freelancing community, said she began freelancing when she went back to university to do a masters aged 43 and had too much time on her hands.

“I started working just a couple of days a week and suddenly became much more productive,” she said.

“The structure of my day depends a bit on what work I am doing,” Mochan added. “I usually start after I’ve watched the French news, around 9.20am, and I’ll work until my partner comes home, usually 6.30pm.”

Weekends are “jealously guarded” down time. “As long as you are clear upfront with clients about the parameters, I think it works well for everyone,” she said.

Freelance Australia offers training, job opportunities and research to support independent workers.

In the UK, the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) fulfils a similar function, representing 68,000 independent workers across a wide range of industries.

According to an IPSE survey of its members, nine out of ten were satisfied with the way they work, said senior policy advisor, Adam Waters. “Only 2% of them, we found, would go back into employment.”

Waters pointed to a “huge” growth in self employment since 2008. “There are 4.8 million self-employed people now, and two million freelancers,” he said.  

“We’re all for flexible working more generally. There is a growing consensus that more flexible working is more positive, especially with people having children. It’s beneficial for them and for employers to allow them to work more flexibly.”

IPSE offers services to its members to assist not only with the practical running of their businesses but also to give support on the “mental and social side.”

This includes help with professional networking through both online forums and events, and the organising of seminars advising on how to maintain a work life balance.

“We create a forum where you have a professional network that you take for granted if you are an employee, and that’s really important for your wellbeing and for your work life balance also,” said Waters.  

He also recommends that freelancers seek out “work clubs”, where they can work with similar independent professionals in the same building, to avoid being isolated at home and overworking.

“It’s important for people who are freelancing to understand that the flexibility is about choosing when you do those hours, not having the flexibility to do all the hours in the day,” he said.

Nicola Smith has spent a decade reporting for The Sunday Times on both the European Union and South Asia.

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