• Author:Ben Jones
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A reminder of the bad old days

Actions speak louder than words. Put your money where your mouth is. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. In work-life balance terms, the real test of whether you are getting it right can often be found in how your days off work go. Do your really have a day off or are you just out of the office? Are you still “on email”? Are colleagues contacting you with the words “I know you’re on holiday but…….” Are you just reading that report over to save time tomorrow? Are you “just checking in” with the team? Are you “just clearing my inbox?”.

As I wrote on my outward train journey this morning, I was at Cheltenham at the races for the day. I took a day off. A day’s holiday. A non-working day. A day for me. So how did it go? Pleasingly, today was a good day. A very good day. 

No work calls. No work texts. I have all of my emails – work and personal – on the same phone and I can see that my email traffic is down significantly today. People in my office has respected my day off. My down time. My me time. 

That should not be a big revelation or a notable success but a cold shiver ran down my spine during the day when I have a flashback to another day’s holiday – another Cheltenham day past – which was very different. Unrecognisable from today. 

In 2014, I took a day off to go the Gold Cup. I was working for PwC at the time – around three months into my new role. It was my first day off since I started – aside from my paternity leave (the month before) – which itself was cut short by a day by a demand I came into the office for a meeting. The work-life balance/wellbeing writing on the wall should have been visible to me even then. Sadly, it wasn’t. 

On this ‘14 day, I spent most of it either reading emails, sending emails, making calls, receiving calls; dealing with a “crisis” which was no more a crisis than when I got caught in a rain shower this morning walking from the station to a brunch booking with my mate. The expectation of me from my colleagues – and my expectation of myself at that time – was total commitment to the work cause; total contactability; total responsiveness. Regardless of day, time or place. As I write that, my heart sinks.

Earlier today, as I stood in the same spot – by chance not design – of five years ago – just near the parade ring, I had a flashback. I had almost forgotten about that five year old experience. A shudder. I remembered my boss calling me to discuss our failure – my failure – to win a big contract after a recent meeting and proposal I had submitted. On the face of it he was understanding – and apologetic for contacting me on my day off – but he kept calling me and suggesting further and further actions to turn this crisis around. His actions – contacting me on my day off – spoken louder than his words – sorry to disturb you. My actions – willingly responding positively and proactively on my day off – spoke louder than my words that I wanted a great work-life balance. 

My day was dominated by work and was truly ruined. Today’s flashback brought me memories of crouching behind a wall like a child playing hide and seek to try to drown out the background noise of the crowds – full of guilt. Guilt about sounding like I was having fun (fat chance). Guilt that I was having a day off. Guilt that I wasn’t in the office. Sad. Very, very sad and as much my failure as a failure of corporate culture. 

Thankfully, that was a long time ago – in time and mindset. Thankfully, today was a very difference experience. Today was my day. Today proved that silence is golden and reinforced my passionate view that getting work-life balance right is priceless. And that it can be achieved.