Symptom 3 – Life Imbalance
Having balance in your life means distributing your resources (such as passion, time, and energy) fairly across all the things that matter
Those who work in the construction industry widely accept that, to enjoy a highly fruitful career in this industry, you must sacrifice a great deal of your personal life. Those who do not believe this to be true are few and far between.
We Give to Work Like It’s Our Favorite Child
Having balance in your life means distributing your resources (such as passion, time, and energy) fairly across all the things that matter. The weighting of that distribution is personal for each individual.
Like a parent with a needy, favorite child, many approach this distribution by giving to their work everything it demands and then seeing what remains for the rest. The trouble is construction demands so much that mere scraps are all that remain. When the scraps aren’t enough, it’s seldom their work that suffers but a personal commitment, like health, to try and make the scraps go farther.
“I need more time for family, so I’ll stop going to the gym after work.”
“I need to spend more time with my girlfriend, so I’ll cancel commitments I made with my friends.”
We tip the scales grossly in favor of work, and while you might imagine this imbalance to be detrimental only to personal life, work suffers too.
Why Do The Scales Tip So Heavily Towards Our Work
From one of my employment contracts, I quote, “You will be required to work a basic 40 hour week (excluding meal breaks). Your actual working hours will be as required by the project/site to which you are assigned and may include working at the weekend”.
We all sign a contract that says something along these lines. The contract says this because having to commit long hours to our work is common. If it weren’t common, the company would pay the rare exception a handsome overtime rate and remove this ugly, deterring clause from the contract.
Construction projects inevitably suffer delays. Delving into why they suffer will detract from this point so I will save that for a later post. The point at which a project starts to fall behind is generally when the scales begin to tip notably towards work. For when they fall behind, thanks to Symptom 1, there are no more shoulders to bear the extra work than our own. We were barely keeping our heads above water before and now, as a result, Symptom 2 kicks in (overwork).
In response, the majority of us commit more hours to our work and less to the other areas of our life (there’s the tip). We would do this whether or not it was in our contract because it is easier to say yes than say no — the former results in smiles, and the latter risks upsetting people. But throwing more hours at the problem is ineffective. As I go into below, giving more to work to the detriment of personal life hurts far more than it helps.
Interestingly, one contract of mine limited the number of additional hours to 10. Was that limit maintained though, i.e., did I work no more than 50 hours per week? No, and whose fault was that? Mine. Like a spoiled, needy child, construction demands so much from us because we let it. We give it what it wants, so it never stops asking.
What if we said “no”? In an industry that needs all the help it can get, will your employer jump straight into contractual clauses and grounds for dismissal? I doubt it. Perhaps it is worth taking the risk? If “no” is too extreme how about, “okay, but let’s be reasonable”?
Life Balance and Performance
Who is the Most Effective?
For each of the dichotomies below, ask yourself who is more effective in their profession?
- The rested or the fatigued?
- The positive or the negative?
- Those whose home life thrives or struggles?
- The fit and healthy or those who feel disgusted at their appearance and regularly suffer illnesses?
- Those who commit time for play and fun or those who never find any joy in their week?
In each case, I’m sure you’ll agree, the former is most effective in their profession.
How Valuable is Your Time?
A commonly agreed-upon theory is that we complete our day’s best work in only a handful of focused hours. I guarantee that those who successfully set aside blocks of time in which to apply full focus will vouch for this theory. Assuming this is true, which of the following do you think would make better use of their work hours?
- Those whose sole focus is work and see all 168 hours of the week as a vast spread of time to spend on work, or
- Those who see work as a portion of the day’s essential commitments, all of which have an equal right to hard, focused work.
The second individual is going to treasure a 2 hours window in which they can focus, uninterrupted, on something vital. The first will spend those hours making tea or checking through emails because they believe they have many more to spare.
The individual who is not solely committed to their work is going to hold, in higher value, the hours they commit to their work. The work produced in those hours, therefore, will be of superior quality. The industry, however, does not encourage life balance. Those who are fully and solely committed to their work will be met with praise. Those who are not will be treated, not unfavorably, but less favorably than those who are.
Life balance deserves our attention because those who don’t make time for rest or recreation outside of work will find it at work by permitting procrastination to enter their day.
Correlation between Life Balance and Performance
Life balance  is directly proportional to performance; when one improves, so does the other. Sleep deprivation, for example, undermines performance – as does a lack of play. This information is not new, there is plenty of research and reports available on the subject, but even without reading them, you know this to be true from experience. Your complete your best work when you are well-rested and can apply your full potential. If you are trying to burn your brain’s energy all the time, it won’t regenerate, and your performance will wane. While this is not new information, it is insufficiently respected. Taking from personal life and giving to work doesn’t work. We must stop trying it.
 I purposefully refer to “life balance,” not “work-life balance” (the well-known term). “Work-life balance” implies that work is separate to life which is a flawed, unhealthy view and frankly, nonsense. Work is one of many parts of your life, as well as friends, family, health, etc. The degree to which each piece is valued will vary between individuals. An extreme individual might give zero value to all parts of life that isn’t work. I doubt this individual truly exists, but if they did life would consist entirely of work, it would still not be separate.