Work–family–life: balancing needs in the workplace.

- August 2019

By Nawshad Shaikh, Manager at Parbery Consulting.

In an emerging society we are often dragged into working longer hours. This starts right after finishing our degree and joining the workforce. In my view this is due to the trade-offs we make on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

According to Maslow, we have five categories of needs that motivate our behaviour. Once we satisfy the more foundational needs (such as finding food & shelter), we are then freed to focus on other needs like health and self-esteem.

At the earliest stage, we try to fuel our physiological needs by entering the workforce. The only way we can fuel our physiological needs in this competitive job market is by working harder, which in turn means working longer hours. This in itself serves our secondary needs as a by-product. Over time, working longer hours becomes a habit and in the long term we suffer from a work life imbalance. A work-life balance is a crucial need in every aspect of our life, whether we are a student or a working individual.

In order to attain work-life balance, we firstly need to thoroughly understand what the required fundamentals are in our life. The time should be distributed around these fundamentals to obtain an acceptable harmonised balance. The trick is we must not spend too much time on one of the fundamentals where it is impacting negatively on other fundamentals of our life. Sometimes it’s about making the hard choice of what we simply don’t have time to do right now.

For most of us, our life is surrounded by four fundamental commitments: family, friends, health, and work. These four are somehow interlinked and surprisingly the truth is that in order to be successful we have to reduce our time spent on one of the fundamentals. And in order to be really successful we have to reduce our time spent on two of the fundamentals. What this illustrates is that life has trade-offs and we simply cannot have everything at the same time. Hence, we need to make choices based on what is most important to us at a given point in time. This does not mean that we stick to that choice forever: as our demands/needs change so we also need to alter our choices strategically.

This is done by allocating set time to plan and re-align our fundamental choices based on our needs. In addition, we also need some time for ourselves to cycle through periods of focus and relaxation with different tasks. Otherwise “time scarcity” or the state of constantly having over-cluttered and over-booked schedules inadvertently diminishes our imaginative powers. We need to find balance in all aspects of our life so that we feel accomplished at end of every periodic cycle and throughout the process.

In my current role as management consultant at Parbery, I have found work-life balance is highly supported to ensure peak productivity is achieved. Being a management consultant, it is very hard to gain a work-life balance if not supported by your firm, because the work is always surrounded by client deliverables.

Recently during the school holidays, I was able to share the two weeks of our kids’ break between my partner and me. The week I was responsible for the kids, I was able to work from home and look after them. I could have taken the week off as annual leave but received the support from Parbery to work from home instead. This has enabled me to save on my annual leave and most importantly be able to support the client on key deliverables. As a bonus, I was able to assist the kids to catch-up on their studies prior to the start of the term.

I would like to highlight one point about working as a management consultant. In a tri-party arrangement where we focus on our client deliverables, it is very difficult to attain a work-life balance if it is not supported by the firm. The firm can only support work-life balance if it is ingrained in its values and culture.