First can I stress that I do know how lucky I am and if that does not come through in what I write, there is something wrong!Â I am blessed.Â With seemingly happy, healthy children, a supportive partner and a job I love doing.Â All that I have lacked is balance.Â Now my illness has given me both the opportunity to recognise that I have a choice and some impetus to use it.Â I do see these two factors: (1) the recognition that choice exists and (2) the impetus, desire, call it what you will, to exercise that choice as being two separate ideas.
I also hope that I have also made clear that I know there are many fathers who have little or no choice about how and when they work.Â The blog is possibly going to be less relevant to those fathers.Â I think Iâ€™m writing principally for fathers who have a choice, but who perhaps may not recognise that they do or who may lack impetus to exercise it.Â The thing about choice though, the more I reflect on it, is that surely most of us have some degree of choice?Â For someone it might be limited to whether to accept an extra shift or some overtime or casual work because the money would be great and how much will you actually add by being home for those hours? Â For someone else it may be whether they want to press for promotion or the extra responsibility a project involves? For me Iâ€™m finding that itâ€™s about choosing to go to London less and to make sure I leave at six rather than seven.
Maybe what Iâ€™m saying is that if everyone recognised that there was some choice and had the confidence both to exercise that choice and to be public about it, perhaps we would see a shift in culture.Â William (in his comments on my last entry) writes about his company talking about flexibility and balance but not expecting you to take it.Â I hear that often.Â Over the last decade, working within large organisations, focusing predominantly on how people treat each other at work, I have thoughtÂ a great deal about the nature of â€˜companiesâ€™ and I have come to believe that they donâ€™t actually exist!Â For me companies are just a brand name and a collection of (sometimes very fine) buildings all over the place.Â Talk of â€˜company cultureâ€™ is I think often exaggerated.Â What companies really consist of is an assortment of people with influence over each other.Â Â Â And that influence does not rigidly follow hierarchical lines.Â You influence people on your team, the people around you, obviously you influence anybody who works for you, but you also influence your boss, and their (senior) colleagues too.Â Â Much of my work is about helping people to recognise the influence that they have. Â I would say to someone in Williamâ€™s position that talking to your boss about leaving early twice a week so you can supervise tea or pick up from swimming isnâ€™t necessarily â€˜rocking the boatâ€™.Â Particularly if at the same time you are making clear that the work will get done; that the boss wonâ€™t lose out.
One of the things I want to cover in the blog is the whole question of how exercising a positive choice can make you more productive overall, but letâ€™s not run before we can walk!Â For the moment, letâ€™s leave it at fathers like William saying, credibly and assertively to their boss, that their exercising a choice isnâ€™t going to mean that the boss loses out.Â Small steps!
Something else that I believe after 20 years of talking to bosses is that they, like clients, are human beings.Â William (and anyone else reading this and trying to imagine how their own boss would react to a request) is likely to be thinking â€˜youâ€™ve not met my boss yet!â€™Â All I can say is that frequently as part of my job I talk at length to bosses who have been complained about, who are clearly perceived by someone to be a problem.Â I have often seen vulnerability and insecurity; people under pressure.Â Sometimes I have seen people who are also struggling with their work life balance.Â The main point though is that the people I meet are very different from the people that have been described to me.
Iâ€™m the first to accept that many bosses probably arenâ€™t yet convinced that your job can be done flexibly, but Iâ€™m not advocating that everyone submits a flexible work request through their HR department.Â Weâ€™re talking about taking small steps.Â I doubt many bosses will put a blanket ban on picking up from swimming â€“ at least if they are clear that the work will be done.Â Â And if, over time, they recognise that your job is getting done, even though youâ€™re leaving â€˜earlyâ€™, they may start to change the way they think.
In this struggle though, itâ€™s important to recognise that covert operations will not have sufficient impact.Â We need to be clear about what we are doing; thatâ€™s how we maximise our influence.Â Last week there was an article in the FT work section about going home when you are tired and unproductive.Â I loved it.Â But it didnâ€™t go far enough; it didnâ€™t talk about publicising what you are doing.Â I wanted it to say â€˜Go home when youâ€™re tired and unproductive and tell the people around you what youâ€™re doing.â€™ Thatâ€™s whatâ€™s going to drive culture change.
Something that I have been thinking about recently is the energy that children and families can give you.Â Given that for most parents a state of perennial, child induced tiredness is the norm, this may sound ridiculous.Â But I have a different perspective.Â After all I am currently a bit like a scientific experiment. I am a perennially tired parent who has had abnormal levels of fatigue inflicted upon them (through the side effects of aggressive chemo and radio therapies). Â Hopefully, 18 months on from the treatment, the fatigue will start to fade soon.Â But at the moment itâ€™s still there. Â During the experiment, over the course of the last couple of years, something very strange has happened to me in terms of the way that I regard my children.Â I had always (subconsciously) viewed them as net users of resource.Â In so many different ways, but certainly in terms of energy!Â They were also always viewed as the principal cause of my (and my partnerâ€™s) tiredness.Â That was the accepted logic.Â In the months following my diagnosis they quietly transformed, from users to providers; providers for me of energy and purpose.Â I needed to get it from somewhere!Â I wasnâ€™t working and I was being regularly injected with a cocktail of the finest energy sapping drugs.Â The whole dynamic changed and I started to see them differently.Â (By the way if youâ€™re worrying that I use terms like â€˜net energy userâ€™ with my boys, please relax!)Â But I have started to wonder whether just recognising the energising effect of being with them (however tiring it may feel at the time) could help others in the way that I think itâ€™s helped me over the last year or so.Â Perhaps you might think about telling people that you need to go home to tap into the energy you get there, to refresh yourself.
Argonaut (in his comment) suggested that surely the worst thing would be to get old and realise that you missed your kids growing up because you were at work.Â This is ground that I know because five or six years ago (maybe more) over a beer, one of my former bosses, a man who has been very good to me and who has had a great deal of impact on my career, said to me â€˜Matt, donâ€™t do what Iâ€™ve done and wake up one morning realising that youâ€™ve missed your children growing up.â€™Â When I speak publicly I normally tell this story, because it shows something about the way people addicted to work function.Â At the time I remember thinking, â€˜this is enormousâ€™, â€˜this is why I have started up my own companyâ€™, â€˜I need to listen to this.â€™
Of course, being â€˜drivenâ€™ or a workaholic or whatever word you want to use to describe someone like me, I continued to work 60, 70 hours a week.Â The warning had no impact whatsoever on how I behaved.Â It wasnâ€™t until the doctor said â€˜I think youâ€™ve got cancerâ€™ that I had the realisation that I had spent most of the last 20 years worrying about stuff that didnâ€™t really matter.Â And then I started to think about the warning Iâ€™d been given and what factors lead me to ignore it.Â Some of that thinking is contained in the â€˜work driversâ€™ piece.Â But getting back to Argonautâ€™s suggestion, I have come to realise that there possibly is something worse than realising youâ€™ve missed your childrenâ€™s childhood.Â Itâ€™s looking at the product of your parenting and regretting your choices.
People say on your death bed no-one will ever wish theyâ€™d spent more time at work.Â I take this to the next stage; on that death bed youâ€™re unlikely to regret the way that you managed a particular project or the decision you took not to push that product.Â Because youâ€™ll no longer be involved with the company.Â But in twenty years you probably are going to be regularly reminded of your shortfalls as a parent.Â Because, hopefully youâ€™ll be watching your (grown up) children.Â And youâ€™ll possibly be thinking that you regret not spending more time talking to them about a particular thing, blaming yourself for not having more influence.Â Iâ€™m sorry if that feels a bit negative.Â But for me itâ€™s a stronger warning.Â It feels a bit like the picture of the damaged lungs on cigarette packets.Â And what Iâ€™m interested in doing is finding warnings that generate impetus for people to exercise choice but that donâ€™t involve cancer treatment!
Finally William asks about whether commercialism is part of the problem. Whether we are working too hard to collect stuff we donâ€™t need.Â Of course we are.Â But I donâ€™t want this blog to be a condemnation of the world we live in â€“ just about thinking about how you can change the way or the hours you work.Â With small steps at first.