- Tech & Gadgets
- BRW. lounge
Published 24 July 2012 16:55, Updated 25 July 2012 08:02
The relentless pressure that paid work puts on our relationships, minds and bodies is something that worries Australians of all descriptions.
Work-life balance. If you took the media conversation about this issue as gospel you’d think women with, or about to have, children are the ones looking to find the right mix of paid work and family time in their lives.
You’d be wrong about this.
In my experience it’s a much broader conversation. The relentless pressure that paid work puts on our relationships, minds and bodies is something that worries Australians of all descriptions.
There is one group, however, who seem to be discussing this issue with notable energy: men in their 50s.
These are men who (either by choice or necessity) are at least 10 to 15 years away from full retirement. They have adult children and some have grandchildren. By and large they enjoy work but they are all tired – tired of working full time and never having room in the schedule for their health, hobbies, interests, friends and relationships. They look on another decade of slogging it out 8am-6pm, five days a week, with horror.
These are the common views expressed in many discussion groups I have conducted with men in this age group. Earlier this year I encountered a group of six men living in a leafy suburb in Melbourne, all well-paid professionals, who were particularly focused on the issue of work-life balance. They had watched their fathers work until exhaustion on retirement and wanted to avoid that scenario at all costs.
One of the men remarked: “Retirement has been a bit on my mind lately. I saw with my brothers as soon as they got out of stressful jobs, their health was so much better … My dad flogged himself to the grave. I think about it every day.”
His friend added that most of his mates seemed trapped in a cycle of overwork that was undermining their health. “Men who flog themselves at work. They get tired and they don’t eat properly. They drink too much. And then they die. It’s the stress of work”.
All of the men in the room wanted to work three to four days a week. They wanted to spend the extra time on health and travel but also with their friends, partners and grandchildren. All believed if they could move away from a five-day working week, it would prolong their time in the workforce by at least five to 10 years. If they had to stay full time, they felt it would force them to retire before they were ready. As one man put it, “I’d like to work less hours a week and work forever”.
What was stopping these men from the dream of part-time work? It wasn’t always a question of money; it was more that they were anxious about raising the issue of part-time work with their boss. They feared such a request would signal that they were unable to keep up with the pace of work, no longer the valuable employee they were in the past. Exactly the kinds of assumptions some employers used to make about women when they went off to have children.
While the desire for men in this age group to pursue mental and physical wellbeing goals has obvious implications for brands aimed at older men, the broader message is one for employers. Have you thought about the benefits to your business of accommodating the desire for quality, permanent part-time work among 50-something workers?
From what I can see, Australian employers still seem to have a long way to go when it comes to an enthusiastic acceptance of part-time work and job sharing. At a time in which we need to retain skills and keep our valued employers healthy and happy, this approach seems to make no sense.