1. Older workers don't want to retire completely (98% of the 1400 surveyed by Life Time Wise want to phase out of work over 2-3 years)
2. Under employment of our younger graduates and other workers
3. Knowledge is pouring out of businesses into the drain
4. Yet most companies and public sector agencies don't actively promote phased retirement while gliding younger workers in and taking advantage of knowledge transfer between the two cohorts.
I'm no Rhode Scholar but I am not overly dozy either - what's the reason? Please don't tell me that not all jobs are able to be shared or it's too expensive - what's the cost of recruiting versus job sharing. Sorry about negative tone - I guess I am over reading about how older adults have to work to 70 just to pay for the wheels to keep turning in businesses that can't figure out another way. Finished now - time for a Bex and a lie down.
In my thirty years as a leisure professional, I’ve unravelled the work, time, leisure conundrum. I have helped hundreds of individuals to create fulfilment, achieve better health outcomes and support the productivity and morale of their organisations and homes.
Geoff, was a retired engineer who despite the best intentions of his wife, friends and health professionals was dropping into depression. Why? Because he didn’t feel like he belonged. He had no meaningful activity in his life, no social connections and no clue why.
My approach with Geoff was to determine what he loved about his work and what he was great at. Turns out he loved geometric figures and was always fascinated how angles shape our world. He said his strongest feature was his concentration.
I assessed his profile and organised an archery coach for a session. He took to it like a shot! He loves it and now he also makes compound bows and sells them! His interest in angles and design was the toehold I needed. It's what I am great at and I love doing it.
For well over two decades there has been an enormous amount written and spoken about the need for work-life balance. People like me (yes I confess) have wrung their hands and run off at the mouth about how work-life balance was vital for a healthy life.
Well, today I am here to say sorry about all the mangled metaphors and mixed messages and to finally bury this unattainable myth called work life balance. It’s a trick.
Life comprises paid work, unpaid work, domestic work, biological work, relationship work and then there is leisure. All this makes for – a life. It becomes a competition for time, some of which is more obligatory than others.
Grab a piece of paper and jot down all the elements of your life. Sleep, eating, paid work, volunteering, domestic tasks, leisure, relationships – everything. Now create two headings, “Desirable Obligations” and “Undesirable Obligations”. Transfer the elements of your life into these two columns.
Hard isn’t it? Figuring out what is desirable and undesirable (and why) is tricky. Things change. On a given day children’s sport is desirable, the next weekend it feels like an undesirable obligation.
Attempting to separate work from life is dumb. You may think this is semantics however language shapes behaviour.
Looking to find balance between work and life is foolhardy and liable to create more frustration and more guilt.
So where to from here? After decades of working with pre-retiree baby boomers, the time impoverished and those severed from the workplace I have a better idea for us to consider.
What if we examined what we most strongly identify with? If you gain intrinsic benefits from paid work – self esteem, stimulation and social connection then when added to being financially rewarded it makes paid work highly valued. Do it for decades and it shapes you and how you see yourself.
Therefore you are likely to place it higher on your rung of desirable versus undesirable obligation than other elements that may not provide the same benefits. You tell yourself you “should” be spending (look at the language) more time with (fill in the blanks) but you know that the reward won’t be as strong. Our brain moves us either away from pain or toward pleasure.
Where is the pain and pleasure in the way you “spend” the time in your life?
If you love what you do for paid work go for it!
However if it comes at a cost to your physical, emotional and relationship health then it becomes a matter for you to choose whether this is sustainable. Something has to give – don’t go looking for work-life balance, it will seem like the answer and then just disappear like mist.
Is there an answer? Yes.
It lies within the only other part of life that can deliver the same intrinsic benefits of paid work.
Leisure, not just any leisure I am talking about “serious leisure”.
Casual leisure is short-lived and mainly sensory. It’s the glass of wine or beer at the end of a hard day, it’s the sinking into the couch and getting lost in the box. It’s socialising - it can be whatever you want. Casual leisure is a valuable and a necessary part of our lives – it just doesn’t fulfil us and nor should we rely on it to completely rejuvenate us from the other obligations in our lives.
Serious leisure on the other hand is something you immerse in, something you can get your teeth into that challenges you, moves you, grows you, creates joy, it stimulates you. There is a commitment required of you generally over a longer period of time where you get better at your chosen serious leisure pursuit.
The list of benefits from serious leisure are the same as paid work. So when the time arrives in your life where you leave paid work (or it’s left you behind), or it has become an increasingly undesirable obligation threatening your well-being, serious leisure is the antidote.
Forget balance. If you want a life that is rich, fulfilling, joyous, complicated, funny, challenging, full of growth, a pain in the bum, purposeful and everything thing in between then add some serious leisure so that you don’t overly rely on paid work for your identity.
Stay tuned for the next blog that is going to address the questions this one has raised including “this is all well and good but I don’t have any spare time” and “I don’t know how to get serious leisure in my life”.
Again I am sorry for perpetuating the myth of work-life balance.
I am not sorry for wanting to create more serious leisure in your life!