UK: Losing control.

UK: Losing control. - Britain's managers are taking work pressures home and home pressures to work, a Management Today survey shows. No wonder so many are so stressed.

by Judith Oliver.
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Britain's managers are taking work pressures home and home pressures to work, a Management Today survey shows. No wonder so many are so stressed.

Work isn't going too well for Britain's managers. They are working longer hours, burdened with increasing levels of pressure and disillusioned by diminishing control over their working lives. Managers appear to be sacrificing their personal life, and that of those close to them, for their work. Organisations appear at best unenlightened as to the potentially damaging effects of this imbalance - both to their business and their staff - or at worst simply choose to ignore the consequences. For managers themselves, the quest to find balance in both their work and personal lives is therefore an increasing priority.

These are the results of a survey conducted among subscribers to Management Today. Our readers were asked to consider the balance between their work and home lives by responding to a questionnaire entitled 'The Great Work/Life Debate'. Designed in conjunction with WfD, a provider of corporate work/life consulting and services, our survey enjoyed a phenomenal response. Nearly 6,000 people completed the questionnaire and many took the time and trouble to write additional comments describing the tension between their working and personal lives.

The results of the survey make for sober reading. The majority of Britain's managers are engaged - with mixed results - in a perpetual juggling act, with only 4 in 10 respondents claiming to be reasonably happy with their work/life balance. And, it seems, the bigger the company, the bigger the nightmare. Those working in large organisations (more than 500 employees) are most disillusioned with the balance in their lives. Those working in smaller organisations, particularly those working for themselves, are most likely to feel that they have attained some sort of balance.

Things are clearly getting worse. Just under half of Britain's managers admit to increasing difficulty in meeting both personal and work commitments.

And it's the social life that is taking a bit of a bashing. A worrying 56% claim that the pressure to perform at work means less of a personal life worth speaking about.

Under considerable stress themselves, the UK's managers admit to transmitting their problems to their staff. Two-thirds of respondents report that they are expected to ask more and more from their employees - a proportion which rises to 77% among managers working in the public sector. And only 3 in 10 managers surveyed don't accept that they push their staff too hard to meet the targets they have been set.

Many managers claim that their organisation's culture contributes considerably to their stress. Almost two-thirds believe that working long hours is often confused with commitment in their organisation - a view held by 75% of respondents from larger organisations. Only a third of managers surveyed are satisfied that their organisation does all it can to help its staff maintain a healthy work/life balance, a quarter are not sure and four in 10 would beg to differ. This would seem to run counter to the perception of a more humane enterprise culture in the 1990s. Indeed, just over a third of respondents feel that any commitment shown by their organisation to a healthy work/life balance is no more than window dressing. According to a third of respondents, sheer pressure of work is becoming a prime cause of staff turnover.

However, for many of those surveyed, work remains a huge source of satisfaction.

Astonishingly, around one-fifth of respondents suggest that, if they had to choose, their career would come before their personal life. Nearly three in 10 reported that most of their satisfaction in life comes from work, while less than one-quarter would happily accept lower pay in return for a more balanced personal life.

But the price of a satisfying career can be high. A massive 84% of the sample admitted to having made important sacrifices in pursuit of their career.

The survey asked managers to consider the biggest personal sacrifice they have made in their career. Missing children growing up and letting work intrude on home life head this listing, although answers reveal a wide range of personal regrets - from missing a school event or the birth of a child, to divorce, the postponement of a parent's funeral and not being with a partner during serious illness or even death. Career before children is a strong theme for women. Some 10% of women claim they have either postponed or foregone the opportunity to have children for the sake of their jobs. And 15% of women feel that work means they miss out on leisure time just for themselves.

What can be done? In terms of improving the current work/life balance, respondents believe the matters are clearly within the gift of their employer.

A quarter want fewer working hours - 16% favour flexible working arrangements - particularly a four-day week. Working from home and less time wasted commuting are other proffered solutions. Significantly, the second most popular suggestion on the Top 10 Wish List is for a re-thinking of organisational culture, with nearly a fifth of those sampled mentioning this issue.

If work/life balance is to improve then it is imperative that organisations make significant changes to their working practices, says Penny de Valk, WfD's manager of consulting. The problem, she suggests, is that many organisations are trying to apply a hopelessly inappropriate 19th-century model of working practices to the needs of a 21st-century workforce. 'Organisations are using a map which is 200 years out of date. What they need to do now is draw up a new map which is relevant both to their organisation and the 21st century.'

And those who get these changes right will find themselves with a major source of competitive advantage. 'In future,' she says, 'companies which offer employees a better life balance will find it easier to attract and retain the best recruits.'

Organisations concerned to improve their employees' work/life balance are currently experimenting with a range of ideas including flexible working practices (such as part-time, job sharing, annualised hours, telecommuting and remote working); flexible or cafeteria benefit arrangements (childcare/ nursery vouchers, for example); after-school and holiday clubs, or elderly day-care clubs; and helplines offering high-quality, pragmatic advice on topics ranging from parenting issues to care of the elderly. A growing number of organisations, says de Valk, are also exploring the cultural changes needed for flexible working to succeed. The problem, she explains, is that these changes are both difficult and risky. 'There is no magic bullet,' she insists. 'Each organisation must find its own way of meeting both employee and business needs.' Too many companies merely fiddle with existing practices rather than make a real commitment to change.

And for as long as organisations fiddle, the juggling goes on.


Hilary Ellis, 40, works in Paris as a senior manager in organisational development and change management for telecommunications company Nortel.

Her husband Stuart, a computer system analyst, lives at their home in Stratford-on-Avon. Married since 1982, the couple see each other most, but not all, weekends.

Ellis' weekend commuting lifestyle is becoming increasingly common among senior managers within international companies. But does it make for a balanced life?

'Other people may think it odd but I'm pretty happy with the way I have set things up', she says. 'To be honest my work life is more important than my personal life. My husband Stuart has recently changed careers and retrained and now I'm the major breadwinner. In my career I have been relocated twice and I've been made redundant once, so I have learned to live with constant change. I joined Nortel in March 1997 and this is a highly stimulating, exciting place to work.

I find my work very fulfilling and if I stay late it's because I really want to get the work done.'

Ellis believes it's extremely easy to get caught up in a high-performance work culture - even though a social or home life is bound to lose out.

'In a strange way work is ever-present whereas a social life needs to be organised,' she explains. Work can often feel an easier option. 'At work it's very easy to maintain networks because you are constantly in contact with people. Outside work it's harder to keep social contacts going and trying to fit in all the people you want to see causes quite a lot of stress.'

While work is a source a great satisfaction, Ellis admits that at present the balance is heavily weighted in work's favour. 'Inevitably working in France affects the relationship between Stuart and myself,' she says.

'I would say, however, that we certainly don't take each other for granted and really appreciate each other when we are together.' However, one sacrifice that Ellis accepts she may have now made is the opportunity to have children.

'I think the moment to have children never came,' she says. 'I always saw it very much as a work-versus-children decision because I didn't think it would be possible for me to do both. I wasn't ever in a position where I could give up my job but I also don't know whether or not I wanted to stay at home as a housewife. A lot of my colleagues are currently on maternity leave and that does give me mixed feelings.'



In general I feel I have got my work/life balance about right


Male 45.2 36.2 18.6

Female 40.1 42.7 17.2

Under 35 39.7 41.1 19.2

Over 35 45.4 36.3 18.3

Directors/senior managers 45.2 37.4 17.4

Proprietors/partners 49.3 31.8 18.9

Managers/others 42.7 37.9 19.4

Fewer than 500 employees 47.2 34.3 18.5

More than 500 employees 41.1 40.4 18.6

Whole sample 44.6 37.1 18.3

Are you satisfied you make sufficient input at home?


Male 49.7 27.8 22.5

Female 54.8 28.6 16.6


What would you say is the single biggest personal sacrifice in your home

life that you have made in your career so far?


1 Missed children growing up 23.6 23.7 22.2

2 Work put before home/family 23.4 23.8 21.3

3 Moving home for employer 9.8 10.8 4.0

4 Missed leisure/hobby time 8.3 7.0 15.7

5 Away from home - short term 8.0 8.9 3.1

6 Divorce/strain on relationship 7.2 7.1 7.3

7 Away from home - long term 4.2 4.7 1.3

8 Time spent on work-related education 2.7 2.7 2.5

9 Not having/postponing children 2.4 1.2 9.9

10 Unable to form relationships 1.6 1.2 3.7


If you could change just one thing to improve the balance between your

work and personal life what would it be?


1 Work fewer hours 23.5 22.9 27.0

2 Change company culture 18.2 18.7 15.4

3 Work flexible hours 16.2 11.5 15.8

4 Reduce/avoid commuting 11.0 11.7 7.5

5 Work from home 7.3 7.5 6.5

6 Change jobs/relocate 5.0 5.0 5.1

7 More staff 4.4 4.4 3.9

8 Earn more 3.1 2.9 4.1

9 Retire 2.5 2.8 0.9

10 Reduce stress 2.2 2.4 1.2


How many hours do you work a week?


Less than 37 5.0 9.8

37-40 hours 13.9 23.8

41-50 hours 53.2 48.3

51-60 hours 22.6 14.2

More than 61 hours 5.3 3.9


On balance, would you say that relative to your job

responsibility your working hours can be justified?


Fully justifiable 31.8

Mostly justifiable 45.5

Partly justifiable 17.4

Mostly unjustifiable 4.2

Totally unjustifiable 1.1



Most of my satisfaction in life

is derived from my career 28.4 42.5 29.1

If I had to choose, my personal

life would come before my career 57.2 20.5 22.3

I find it increasingly difficult

to meet both my personal and

work commitments 45.7 33.6 20.7

I often have to lie to take time

off to keep family or personal

appointments 4.4 90.3 5.3

I would be prepared to accept

lower pay to have my time for

my personal life 23.6 59.1 17.4



The pressure to perform at work

leaves me less and less time for

my personal life 56.5 23.8 19.7

As a manager I find I'm expected

to ask more and more from

my staff 67.3 10.7 22.0

I know I often push my staff

too hard, but I have no choice

if we are to meet our targets 34.5 34.9 30.6

Flexible or part-time working

arrangements would seriously

reduce my efficiency 32.7 49.1 18.2

There are times when I would

rather be at work than at home 30.2 49.6 20.2



This organisation does all it

can to help staff maintain a

healthy work/life balance 32.6 43.1 24.3

In reality the work balance

ethic is no more than window

dressing in this organisation 35.5 31.8 32.7

In this organisation working

long hours is often confused

with commitment 62.5 21.4 16.1

Workload pressure is becoming

a prime cause of staff turnover 32.4 39.2 28.4


Finding a balance between work and home life is possible - but comes at a price, believes 37-year-old solicitor Joanne Gubbay. 'I have achieved the sort of balance that I want but have sacrificed some upward mobility in my career as a result. Other people could achieve a similar balance but I think many are simply not prepared to give anything up - whether status or money - in order to improve their overall quality of life.'

Gubbay lives with her husband Michael and their two children Rachel, four, and Sarah, 18 months, in North London. She has worked for City law firm Berwin Leighton since 1986. Four years ago, following the birth of her first child, she persuaded the organisation to let her change from full-time employment to a four-day week. 'I was the first person ever in the firm to work a four-day week and was fortunate that my immediate boss was prepared to persuade others in the organisation to allow it on a trial basis,' she explains.

Berwin Leighton agreed to new working hours of 9-7 Monday to Thursday and the arrangement, Gubbay believes, works very well. 'I'm pretty strict about keeping to those four days although I do take some phone calls at home on Fridays,' she points out. 'And while I only work four days I'm very productive during my time in the office. I'm extremely focused and don't waste time because I simply don't have the time to waste any longer.'

Having a Friday at home may not sound much but in fact, she says, it makes a real difference to her quality of life. 'I can do all the household chores on a Friday which means I have a completely free weekend. Ideally, of course, I would prefer a three-day week or perhaps a job share, but I don't think either is very feasible when you work in a service business.

Also, a tiny bit of personal space for me would be nice. With my time split between work and family I don't feel that I have any time for me.

Basically, though, I almost have it all now. I love working and I love being at home with the children.'

The price, she believes, has been the advancement of her career. 'Working part-time has made me far less attractive for promotion. In terms of my career I feel I have stagnated.'


Michael Walker used to work more than 60 hours a week and travelled on business for up to 18 weeks a year. Now he's joined Warrington-based engineering company Shawton Engineering as general manager and believes he's unlikely ever to return to his former lifestyle. Married, with four children aged between four and 12, Walker is determined to work more reasonable hours, have more weekends free and spend more time with his family. 'I'm now very happy working for a small but extremely dynamic company,' he says.

'And I'm sure my life is more balanced than three years ago.'

In 1995 Walker, 40, had spent eight years working for a multinational engineering conglomerate. 'I thoroughly enjoyed the job and if work wasn't quite my life, it was certainly one of the most dominant factors,' he explains. 'I felt I was making sacrifices particularly in terms of my family but I thought those sacrifices were worthwhile.' During one of Walker's frequent overseas trips, he heard that his father had died. His mother had previously suffered a stroke and now required 24-hour nursing care. At the same time his employer offered him positions in either the USA or France. Under the circumstances Walker felt unable to accept either promotion and was made redundant a few months later. 'If the company had looked a little more flexibly at the options I'm sure we could have made some arrangements to cover what was a short-term, crisis situation.'

Walker quickly found employment with the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce working in an export development role. 'I'm extremely grateful to them,' he says. 'The job enabled me to be at home at a point when I needed to spend time with my family and be on hand for my mother.' Walker's mother has since died and he moved to Shawton Engineering just a few months ago.

'After a very unpleasant experience life is wonderful again,' he says.

'For the last couple of years I've done things like attend parents' evenings,' he says. 'Before it would have been impossible. It would take the offer of a totally unrealistic amount of money to persuade me to go back.'


'I think this survey failed to ask one of the most relevant questions of all - How much time do you spend travelling to and from work?' suggests Nick Turrell, senior project manager with London-based communications consultancy Talisman Communications. 'I live 55 miles from my workplace and the commuting time door to door is two hours. Those extra 20 hours a week contribute significantly to my disenchantment with my work/life balance. It's a huge commitment on top of the time I'm already putting in at work.'

For the past seven years Turrell has left his Worthing home every weekday at 7am and returned at 8pm. Married with three children - Rhys 9, Liam 6, and Holly 3 - Turrell feels he is missing out on his children and is unable to help his wife, Angela, as much as he would like. 'Our middle child, Liam, is autistic and needs quite a lot of extra support and attention.

I'm not around to help Angela with the children in that crucial time after school and before bedtime when I know she would appreciate my help. Also, our children are getting older and I don't see enough of them. I've had to miss some of their really significant moments like Liam's fifth birthday party and I really regret that.'

Commuting, Turrell believes, is a constant source of stress not only because of the long hours it adds to the day but because train travel is often unreliable. 'If it is something important like a school meeting then I have to build in extra time because the transport system so often lets me down,' he says.

While Turrell is unhappy with his current work/life balance he sees light at the end of the tunnel. 'What would provide me with a better balance is to work from home perhaps three days a week and spend two days in London or meeting clients on site.' Effecting this transformation in his work life is far from impossible, he believes. 'With modern technology such as a laptops, ISDN lines and e-mail, I could work very effectively from home for a few days a week. I don't know exactly how it would pan out but I'm very self-motivated and confident I can make it work. Then if I worked a normal eight-hour day I'd still be on hand more often to help Angela at that very fraught bath/bed/story-time period.'


Labour MP Tony Colman can't calculate the exact number of hours he works each week. 'Suffice to say that my life is considerably unbalanced,' he says. 'However MPs generally accept that their lives do become unbalanced.

I heard a female MP reading a bedtime story down the phone to her child the other day. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. I suppose it's a question of doing your best to ensure your family doesn't suffer.'

Colman, 54, admits that his children probably do suffer as a result of his hectic work schedule. Moreover, now married for the third time with two young children, he believes long working hours did contribute to the breakdown of his previous relationships. But this time he's determined to do things differently. 'Even before I was elected MP for Putney last May I was used to working long hours. I worked originally for Unilever and later as a board director for the Burton Group. I think my first two marriages failed as much as anything because I was working so incredibly hard. I'm now working more than 100 hours and six days a week but I try to make quality time for my wife and children even if that means snatching odd moments where you can.'

Some of those odd moments can prove very odd indeed. Colman, the parliamentary private secretary to Northern Ireland minister Adam Ingram, spends each Monday and Friday working in Belfast. 'I get up at 5.30 am, arrive in Belfast at 9am, catch the 5.30pm flight back, and then drive to the House of Commons where we generally finish at 11 pm although sometimes we work through the night. My wife Juliet and I often have our conversations at midnight and the other morning my toddler woke up early and I helped with spellings at 5am. I think you have to fit things in where you can.'

So which is most important, work or personal life? 'Neither,' replies Colman. 'It has to be a combination of the two. Family relationships are vital but you have to earn a living.' However, good employers, he feels, should do more to ensure that neither aspect of life is compromised. 'From my point of view I don't believe that the parliamentary system is particularly satisfactory. I'm sure the hours could be altered to allow MPs a more reasonable amount of time with their families.'.

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