Work is becoming increasingly pressurised because of the recession, and many of us are working longer hours than ever. Many of us have lost our work-life balance but are worried about not putting in the hours and losing our job as a result. But how much extra work is really expected of us, or are we suffering from presenteeism, which is sadly rife within the audit profession?
Presenteeism - the polar opposite of absenteeism - suggests a strong expectation on the part of the employee/or employer for the individual to be present at work, regardless of whether the hours are required, or the work accomplished. The be-all and end-all is ‘to be seen’. It also suggests that hours are spent at work are perceived as having more value than either productivity or results.
While your organisation will have an official policy on protecting and upholding the work-life balance, there can be an uncomfortable gulf between practice and reality. Ignore that gulf at your peril. It represents a potential gap between the official core values of the firm – legally and politically correct, promoting accepted personal freedoms and the human rights of the 21st century workplace.
At the opposite extreme are the diehards, brought up in the old century, where the palace of presenteeism reigned and input-based performance measurement was king.
But while the diehards may well represent a significant force in your performance appraisal, remember work-life balance matters. The policies are there to combat stress, safeguard health, maintain morale, improve retention and maximise productivity.
Whatever your level, there’s plenty you can do to take an active role to preserve (or acquire) a healthy work-life balance and ensure you keep climbing the ladder of success. Here’s how:
- Identify role models in your organisation. It’s not always easy to find one person who embodies all your values, beliefs and aspirations. Put together an inspirational composite. Once identified, set about modelling behaviour; how do they operate, what are their patterns, what do they get away with, where are the compensatory factors? Look, learn and apply.
- Come clean. Be a pioneer of the work-life balance. Be open and upfront about your concerns and how looser working hours might be misconceived. Ask for supportive counsel. Attitude is critical, so be on the organisation’s side. A solution-focused ‘How can we get this to work for all parties’ beats ‘It’s my career or my life’ every time.
- Learn to demonstrate and articulate your value to the business in terms of outputs rather than inputs.
- Get your personal resources working harder by employing time leverage:
- Invest time and effort in understanding what really counts in your role. Then use ‘smart’ time management to concentrate on high-value areas.
- Employ Pareto’s Principal, i.e. the 80/20 rule. Which 20% of your activities contribute to 80% of your results?
- Limit your resources. This is Parkinson’s Law; a task expands to fill the time allocated. Some of the most effective accountants I’ve come across are those fighting hard to deliver value as part-time workers. Contrast them with the young, free singleton who has got the luxury of working right up until last orders. Who do you think provides the best return on investment?
- Use these laws together as the bedrock of your leverage strategy. Identify the critical tasks that contribute most to your goals and then set deadlines.
At the end of the day, be ready to jump into the fray when it’s really needed by putting in high-value long hours as opposed to presenteeism. Be selective. Be smart.
Written by Carol McLachlan, CareersinAudit.com Agony Aunt. Featured in ACCA’s AB magazine.
Check out the Careers in Audit Careers Advice section for more articles by Carol.