Don’t talk to me about work life balance, I work in Sustainability!

photo by Bram Naus


Everyone’s got a view about ‘work life balance’, personally I don’t like the term as it seems to imply that when you’re at work you don’t have a life.

The whole idea of ‘work life balance’ is relatively new. In parts of the world where people practise subsistence farming (and that would include the developed world prior to the industrial revolution) there isn’t the sharp divide between work and ‘life’. Babies go on their mothers’ backs to work; the work ends when the field is planted, or the light fails or water needs to be fetched.

In this world everything is integral, and time is not measured by the minute. Work is done as needed in response to the seasons, the weather, the growth of weeds, the readiness of the harvest. The motivation to get a good crop is high, whether it is for eating, or for selling to pay for school fees, soap and other essentials.

In the world of paid work, we equate time with money, whether it’s a consultant’s hourly rate or the annual salary of an employee. So, with 35-hour weekly contracts or specific contract rates, why does the ‘life’ part so often suffer for the Sustainability professional?

Sustainability professionals are normally highly committed and very motivated. We know that the future of the planet and of future generations is in our hands. We take that seriously.

Have we inadvertently slipped into a subsistence farming mentality where the boundaries between our life and work have blurred? Has working for a ‘cause’ made us forget that we are earning a living so we can pay the bills and spend time with friends and family, following creative and enjoyable pursuits?

Maybe we need to get some perspective. Will a 50-hour week or a 60-hour week really increase our impact? Will our productivity stay high if we fail to spend time with our partners, our children and our friends? Have we over-estimated our influence? Are we on the subtlest of ego trips here?

We see examples of extreme commitment all over the world – think of the medical staff working with Medecins sans Frontières in war zones or rescue workers working through the night to save people from collapsed buildings. Even these people need to take rest, to sleep and eat, otherwise they cannot continue.

Climate change is an enormous challenge but it’s a marathon not a sprint.

Heart of hearts we know we need to re-set the balance and nurture other relationships and ways of relaxing.

It’s not always easy to see how, to know which of the balls we are juggling we are ok to drop, or to get the perspective we need.

If you’d like to know more about the way I tackle the work life balance conundrum with clients, please

get in touch.

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