BOOKS: Achieving the golden ratio

BOOKS: Achieving the golden ratio - Your boss or your kids? Peter Ellwood is heartened by a rich store of tips from business stars showing how you can spend time with both.

by PETER ELLWOOD, chief executive of Lloyds TSB
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Your boss or your kids? Peter Ellwood is heartened by a rich store of tips from business stars showing how you can spend time with both.

Beating the 24/7; By Winston Fletcher; John Wiley & Sons; pounds 19.99

Winston Fletcher has a new name for the time-strapped manager - the Millstone Manager: someone who works excessive hours and is addicted to work, but feels burdened. Beating the 24/7 aims to help Millstone Managers learn how to handle their work/life balances more effectively.

Fletcher has interviewed 16 managers who have reached the pinnacle of their chosen professions, coaxing from them personal insights into their own work/life balances. These include Richard Branson, Nicola Horlick, Michael Grade and Dominic Cadbury, who have all spoken candidly about how they manage to achieve a balance in the increasingly busy corporate world that we live in.

All interviewees have been incredibly honest about their work, their home lives and the problems that often arise when the two different worlds of work and home collide. Michael Grade, for instance, says how his youthful ambition 'screwed up two marriages'.

Looking back, Sir Richard Sykes believes he got his balance right, but questions whether his children would agree - 'They might say, no, no, my father was no role model.'

Sir George Bull tells of how his startled son welcomed him on a return trip from America, asking 'Mummy, who's that?' as Sir George walked through the door. The story amuses his wife, but Bull admits to feeling guilty.

Other interviewees discuss how partners have helped them to succeed.

Sykes says the support of his wife was 'critically important' in the development of his career. Her willingness to move to the US with him, make a new circle of friends and 'set down new roots' was what he calls a 'tough assignment'.

Most of the businesswomen interviewed mention how important it has been that their husbands never resented their success. For women, the best support a husband can give is for them to feel comfortable about their wives' work and their accomplishments in the male-dominated world of business, and never to feel jealous of their achievements.

Fletcher shows how readers can work out their own work/life ratio, to see if their balance is right. There are 24/7 hours in a week - 168 in total. Excluding an average of 48 hours' sleep, this leaves 120 waking hours. If you then add up the hours you spend working, and subtract them from the 120 available, you arrive at your work/life balance ratio. Fletcher says it should be a balanced ratio - 50/50. That should be everyone's target.

For the Millstone Manager looking for some guidance, the most helpful part of the book would be the key snippets of advice that follow each interview, listed in the 'Keep Your Balance' section. They highlight the main themes from each interview - for instance, from Lord Stevenson's: 'Get the school calendar of events as far in advance as possible, enter all the relevant dates in your diary pronto and adjust your business schedule to accommodate them.' Or, following Nicola Horlick's interview: 'When you apply for jobs - particularly if you are a woman, make sure your prospective employers really mean the politically correct things they say about work/life balance: check out the reality with other company employees.'

Fletcher also lists his own 11 Pivotal Principles of work/life balance. The first rule is: 'Work for organisations sympathetic to work/life issues.' Others include: 'Trust your colleagues - delegate.' And one that may strike a chord with husbands everywhere: 'If you are a man, do not ignore your wife's yellow card when your work is fouling up your family's life.'

This is an insightful, thought-provoking and, above all, an optimistic book. At a time when work seems all-consuming for the majority of us, Fletcher and the interviewees point out that we all have a choice in what we do. We can make changes to the way we work, we can turn off the mobile phone and we can make time for holidays, for the school play, or the family outing. But we all have to work hard at it.

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