by Vanessa Gibb (@vingibb). Is it just me or are most creatives struggling to balance work and private time? Is everybody really “too busy”? Is it true there are “not enough hours in the day”? Or is it simply a question of prioritising?

Work/life balance is an EU policy priority. In France, the state provides in-home childcare for working mothers and even housekeeping for new parents, while the Nordic countries famously offer even more support for dual-earner families. Yet, with the realities of our economy, how do we deal with this conflict?

Research into this topic dates back to the 1970s and it wasn’t only executives who were battling with this. Early research talks about the struggle of working shifts and its impact upon family life. The research moves into the ’80s, where economies again started to boom and corporate America’s high-level execs were burning out. Next came ‘yuppie flu’ and more burnout; divorce rates soared — many citing work/life imbalance as the reason.

Age of the virtual office

Now it’s the age of the virtual office and the struggle (as the kids say) has gotten REAL! Many creatives battle to switch off the devices that keep them connected to the work environment and feel the need to respond to communication as it comes through. On the flip side, many employers expect employees who have virtual offices to be ‘always on’, resulting in the concept of office hours disappearing completely.

Working in a global village, needing to be flexible, adaptable, competitive and available at all times — how does one strike the balance? I asked life coach, Michelle Bennetts, master coach and trainer at Inner Life Skills, for an expert’s perspective.

“When I work with my executives on work/life balance, one of the primary factors we look at is FOCUS. If I am unable to separate my work focus from my life focus, balance can never be achieved. It’s about being present in the moment. When I am at work, I am focused on tasks and achievables. When I am home, I am focused on my rest and relationships. When I am resting, I am focused on creating a quiet mind.”

Human personality

When I asked Bennetts why she thought people are spending more time on their work and less on themselves, she didn’t answer in general terms; instead, she referred to a tool that she uses, the Enneagram, when she coaches executives. This is a model of human personality which is basically a typology of nine interconnected personality types which result in specific behaviour patterns. “Different personality types are driven to overwork for very different reasons. Some do it because they get a sense of achievement; others because they enjoy taking control and leading others; others may even be driven to it because they enjoy the appreciation of others; others may be driven for the mere fact that security and financial stability are what they’re after.”

What she does say, generally, is that, for the most part, we are all getting something out of overworking that makes us feel good, secure and appreciated. A great step towards self-awareness and balance is to acknowledge that we can achieve these things inside of ourselves and that external forces do not quantify our value or worth.

So does it come down to being able to set boundaries and say no when excessive demands are placed on our time? “It’s all about capacity,” she says. “All of us find it difficult to say ‘no’ and this can be a career-limiting move the higher up the ladder we climb. In order to set boundaries, people need to be able to clearly articulate what they have on their plate and acknowledge the actual time [their] current workload absorbs.”


She advises creatives to show evidence of workload and time availability and negotiate with employers as to where additional workload may be included. If the workload is truly full and there is little or no space for new work, it may be that something less important needs to be shelved while the new priority is taken on.

Research into handling this conflict from an employer’s point of view has suggested flexible work hours, compressed work weeks (employees work a full week’s time in just four days), working from home, job-sharing, family-leave programmes, onsite childcare and more. Some agencies are already offering these benefits, but expectations and boundaries should be realistic.

A manager should ensure team members can cope with the workload that they have, but we must each be ultimately responsible for our own well-being in the office. Setting your own boundaries, and making these known to people who rely on you at work — clients and colleagues — is a great start. For example, you might not work at all on a Saturday, or may limit screen time after 7pm.

There may be times when you consider bending these rules but, if expectations are managed, boundaries like these are healthy.


Vanessa GibbVanessa Gibb (@vingibb) has experience in HR generalist roles as well as specialised organisational development one, but started her career in marketing. The relationship between an organisation and its people, and how to improve that, is her specific area of interest. As people operations manager at NATIVE VML, she is currently charged with finding, placing, engaging and growing top creative and technical talent.

“Motive” is a by-invitation-only column on Contributors are picked by the editors but generally don’t form part of our regular columnist lineup, unless the topic is off-column.

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