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The people on the edge of the night



It is 7.10am and I’m sat in the office writing this. I set off from home about two hours ago to get here.  I was working last night until about 10pm.  I’m ok with it, it doesn’t happen too often and when it does, well that goes with the territory.  On the flip side I get to slope off for school plays, sports days etc. Quid pro quo right?

Most days I work about 12 hours (although if you take the occasional tweet and blog post some would argue it works out about 3!) I’m not required to, I just want to do a good job.  When things are busy then of course you need to put the extra effort in. It goes without saying and I am privileged to have the job that I do with the company that I do.  I am also lucky that people aren’t judging me by the hours that I put in.

Compare and contrast with Tony Hayward.  Remember him? The evil guy….the one that you booed and hissed at when ever he came on the TV. The pantomime villan of the BP oil disaster. Well you know what, I have a lot of sympathy for the guy and I don’t care who hears it.  Sure the situation in the Gulf of Mexico was bad, but it wasn’t his fault.  He was only human.  The two things that really stuck out for me were the comment, “I want my life back” and the images of him sailing a yacht whilst the leak was still ongoing.

Because he is not allowed a private life is he?  Because I mean, he is evil right and therefore beyond human needs. I won’t go back and dissect the whole oil spill saga.  I wrote about it at the time and the fact that it was driven by human greed and consumerism as well as by BP.  Suffice to say that the enquiry into the spill has said that there is absolutely no evidence that health and safety was traded off for cost savings.

But I will say this.  Wanting your life back when it is being all consumed by work is not a wrong emotion.  As fellow human beings we should have been sympathising with him as well as everyone else affected.  Stress and pressure can hit you regardless of the role that you play in the organisation as Glyn Lumley wrote about this week. And as for the yacht….well he was seeing his son (who was racing) and whom he hadn’t seen for three months. And by US time it was from midnight to 6am. Terrible eh?

So next time you see someone under pressure and working long and ridiculous hours – even if they are senior, even if they are your boss –  have a little sympathy, extend a little empathy and don’t be quick to blame them for something that has or hasn’t happened. 

Everyone has the right to a private life, everyone has the right to work life balance. Even the big guys at the top.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Sukh Pabial permalink
    11/09/2010 09:10

    A good read for this morning. It reminds me of an old boss I had. She was a piss poor manager but put in the hours to produce a good result for her clients. Importantly she never expected her team to follow suit, and was quite explicit in making sure we understood this. She did it because it was her choice, and she was fully aware of the way it impacted on her personal and professional life, but she was ok with that.

    It’s easy to overlook the person behind the situation and the pressure they’re under. I think the problem lies in the perception that people at the top receive a range of benefits so who cares if they have or want a work/life balance. It’s not a fair perception but one that persists I think.

  2. Gareth Jones permalink
    11/09/2010 09:36

    Greqt post, good points made. Now back to work slacker! 😉

  3. KBMayes permalink
    11/09/2010 11:06

    Nice post. Your right of course, just worth saying that it is very important to make sure you doget your quid pro quo and not keep getting up at stupid o’clock to get the work done. Not advocating slacking but making sure that people (and I am preaching as much to me here as any one else) get the balance right. This is not an easy thing to do.

  4. 11/09/2010 11:30

    Unfortunately he was at the helm of the ‘good ship’ BP when disaster struck, and like most good captains should have been at least seen to be ‘on watch’ until they’d reached calmer waters.

    While people are worrying about their livelihoods being destroyed as a consequence of his organisations’ failure to prevent the accident, flaunting apparent wealth is insensitive.

    While people are breaking their backs, 24/7, to resolve and limit the disaster, it doesn’t pay to be seen taking play time. And if they weren’t at it 24/7 they should have been. If this was the example from the top….

    His PR department should have advised him not to be seen taking recreation whilst in the public eye: it’s akin to the CEO not being available for interview because he’s gone on holiday right after announcing redundancies – a natural reaction to having had to do something unpleasant, but very wrong to outsiders.

    Whilst I think it was wrong to blame PR folk for the disaster coverage (it was an operational issue, and it’s not possible to defend the indefensible) I do believe that they were remiss in not alerting the CEO to the behaviour required of someone of his standing in a crisis situation. Whatever the back story.

  5. 11/09/2010 11:34

    A post with a great deal of humanity, and that’s what is missing when people like Tony Hayward get “horribilised” and held up as the villain. Life is a series of shades of grey rather than black and white and it’s great to read posts like this which clearly recognise that fact.

  6. 11/09/2010 12:20

    Of course, everyone deserves to have a balanced life and it’s not always easy to achieve. But I don’t think it’s as simple as measuring the time you spend at home and at work. It’s about the enjoyment and fulfilment you get from all the aspects of your life, including the time you spend at work. I’ve done some research on this and “work” was a close second to “me-time” as the most important element of happiness.
    Having said that, some workplaces have a culture of long hours and stressful working practices that are unhealthy and don’t necessarily produce the best results. Perhaps if Sukh’s boss had been a better manager she wouldn’t have needed to put in all those hours herself!

  7. 11/09/2010 13:33

    I agree entirely with the sentiment of the post – and as a self employed HR professional who takes the work when it is there, I have had my share of long hours and no holidays. My wife puts up with the sacrifices because the rewards are there as well. She would prefer more of my time and less income coming in, if we could guarantee future work was going to be there.

    As individuals we all need to balance ‘Work’, ‘Home’ and ‘Health’, and the balance will be different for each of us, depending on our own values /personal circumstances. However, if one of these areas gets seriously out of kilter, it will have a negative impact on the the other two. I suspect that was largely behind Tony Haywards ‘I want my life back’ response – particularly having to be available to media interviews at all times of the global day.

    As HR people we are often having to deal with the negative impact at work, of an individual’s home or health issues, and we can only support people through such issues if they open up and tell us what the real issues are. Sometimes, balance can only be restored by the individual focusing on the area where the issue is – and that may mean leaving a job (or getting treatment, or a divorce etc). All businesses have to decide when enough is enough and that hurdle will be different depending on circumstances.

    For BP the ‘damage’ done to their reputation by Tony Hayward’s actions, was within a context when everyone was baying for BP’s blood – and Tony Hayward may well feel that he was a scapegoat. However, BP were doing what they felt was right for BP at the time – and that is the kind of decision we all have to make for our companies / clients from time to time – albeit not in the glare of the media spotlight.

  8. 11/09/2010 13:39

    Ah, this is a subject very dear to my heart. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that most of the folks I work with are some kind of senior or professional personal wrestling with the question of how they can have a meaningful life at the same time as they hold down powerful and meaningful work.

    There’s such a lot of empathy for those at the more junior end of the scale and how hard done by they often are. Much less so for people whom society judge as “having it all”. For those senior folks awake to the challenge it can be a complete head-fuck. I sat some years ago having dinner with the global board of an investment bank, whose 2-day meeting I was facilitating, and listened as they shared how miserable they were with their 24/7 lifestyles, despite 3 houses, 4 cars, kids all in top private education, and yachts in the marina. Few would have empathy, but these things were feeling like handcuffs to these guys.

    It takes a lot of self-awareness and courage to find a way through all of this that works. Yet, if people can do so, and stay in corporate life at the same time, the benefits to them personally are immense. Not to mention the knock-on effects to things like their achievements and their ability to become more engaging colleagues and leaders.

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