Are you getting the balance right?

Under pressure to perform at work? Stress is getting to most of us. Roisin Woolnough reports.

Under pressure to perform at work? Stress is getting to most of us. Roisin Woolnough reports.

Many of us are working longer hours than ever before. One in six people in the UK now works more than 60 hours a week, compared with one in eight two years ago, according to a survey by the Department of Trade & Industry and Management Today magazine. And we are working longer hours than most of our European counterparts.

The trend towards longer hours is clearly not through preference - given the choice of working shorter hours or winning the lottery, twice as many respondents plumped for the time rather than the money.

Sally Dench, senior research fellow at the Institute of Employment Studies, says research shows that people are spending more time at work. "People are reporting much longer hours and having more pressure on them. They feel they are not seen as serious if they are not at work till late or will not go to breakfast meetings at six in the morning."

IT professionals certainly know about gruelling work schedules. "People in this industry work long hours," says Michael Ryan, director general at the Institute of Analysts and Programmers. "It is a dangerous cultural issue that has been creeping up on us."

Andy Levicki, IT manager at Saab, says he regularly puts in 60-hour weeks. "It is not unusual for me to work Monday to Friday, doing 10-hour days every day and then, if necessary, come in on Saturday," he says.

Levicki puts this down in part to his position as manager of a team, but also thinks all IT professionals are under pressure to perform at the moment. "Because the economy is in the state it is, people are keeping their heads down and want to be seen as putting their all into their jobs," he says. "People feel lucky to have a job."

So many IT professionals have lost their jobs recently that those in work do not want to jeopardise their positions by working fewer hours than the person at the next desk.

Companies which have made staff redundant may also have frozen recruitment, leaving fewer staff to cover the same workload.

Levicki says this has happened to his old colleagues. "I used to be just another bod in an IT department, but they decimated the helpdesk area and made loads of redundancies, including me. They have a recruitment freeze on and are running on skeleton staff so everyone is doing their best to cover all the bases."

How do you feel about work - not just the job you do now, but the role of work in your life? A significant finding from a survey by the Department of Trade & Industry's Work-Life Balance Campaign and Management Today is the importance of personal attitudes and behaviour to our perceptions of work-life balance. Two people may work the same hours in a similar job, yet only one will report feeling stressed.

The researchers found that most of us fall into one of five main attitude categories which underpin our approach to work, stress and balance. Which do you fall into? To find out, complete the following questionnaire and check out your score.

1. There is a sudden crisis in the office, and fixing it means you need to stay late. How do you react?
A. Let's keep our sense of priority. The business won't collapse if we wait until tomorrow to fix this
B. I would like to stay, but I can't do it at such short notice
C. In my position, I'm expected to stay for as long as it takes
D. I will stay for a while, but not too late
E. This as an opportunity to show what I'm made of.

2. There is a promotion coming up, and you've been asked to apply for it. It means more responsibility and more money. Do you:
Apply - more money is always nice
B. Go all out to get it, working harder and better than ever
C. Feel pleased to be asked, but decide against applying on quality-of-life grounds
D. You know you could do it, but it is too big a commitment and the timing is wrong
E. Apply. You have mixed feelings about the extra work, but you cannot be seen to not want it.

3. The company is going through a downturn, and rumours of cutbacks drift through the office like a bad smell. How do you react?
Feel fairly confident that you won't be selected to leave
B. Feel torn - you would be 50% gutted and 50% secretly relieved if you had to go
C. It is not a great time to be looking for a job, but if it happens you will be fine
D. Spend a morning calculating your redundancy package and how much time off it will buy you.
E. There is nothing you can do about it, except worry.

4. Your boss, who has been a personal mentor, is leaving the firm. Do you:
Ask for his opinion and advice about his replacement
B. Organise his leaving party - none of this "no fuss" rubbish
C. Book your holiday now, before the new boss arrives
D. Worry - his replacement may not be so supportive
E. Send him a personal note thanking him for his help.

5. A pitch for a major piece of new business has been brought forward - to the day you are due to fly out on holiday. Do you:
Take the holiday. There will always be another pitch
B. Cancel the holiday
C. Take the holiday but take your laptop and mobile so you can help if needed and get updates on the outcome
D. Brief your colleagues well, trust them to deliver, and take the holiday
E. You couldn't cancel the holiday even if you wanted to - your family would be too disappointed.

6. The impossible actually happens - you win big on the National Lottery. Do you:
Cut your hours, but otherwise carry on much as you are
B. Leave work the same day and prepare for your new life of leisure
C. Resign with relief, but a sense of regret about leaving your friends and colleagues
D. Resign, and consider funding your own start-up with the money
E. Resign, but work your notice.

a:1; b:2; c:5; d:3; d:4
2. a:1; b:4; c:3; d:2; e:5
3. a:4; b:5; c:3; d:1; e:2
4. a:4; b:1; c:5; d:2; e:3
5. a:1; b:4; c:5; d:3; e:2
6. a:3; b:1;c:2; d:4; e:5

How did you score?

You may enjoy your work, but it does not define who you are. Career as a concept is not central to your sense of self - work is necessary to pay the bills, is enjoyable, and the source of a good bit of your social life, but you are more than your job title. You are happy to progress steadily rather than pushing for promotion. Your stress levels tend to be healthy, as you have an in-built mechanism that stops you getting too worked up about work, whatever happens.

You are at a point in your life where your responsibilities and commitments are at a peak. You have a job, and serious personal responsibilities, such as caring for young children or elderly relatives. Committed and hard-working, you get more done in a day than most people manage in two, but still find fitting everything in can be a struggle.

Your work/life balance is not ideal, and you are often exhausted and sometimes feel very stressed, but cannot see a way to slow down for a while yet. Interestingly, in this research 21% of home heroes felt that the greatest source of stress in their lives was at home rather than work, making the point that work/life balance cannot be achieved entirely by flexible work policies, no matter how enlightened.

You are a prime example of how a combination of circumstance and attitude create work/life balance. You are at a point where you feel comfortable with who you are and what you do. You are good at your job, and have no need to prove anything to anyone. You are committed and feel a sense of pride in what you do, but you do not believe that means you have to work ridiculously long hours.

Balance is important to you, and you take personal responsibility for living the way you want to. You are likely to work shorter days or weeks than you used to, and feel generally satisfied with your work and private life. In this research, balance masters tended to be slightly older than the average respondent, at about 40, and included more women than men.

You love to work. Career is an important part of who you are, and you take great pride in your achievements. You are at a stage where you believe you are building your future success, and you are prepared to invest your time and talent heavily in your job.

In this research, you are the most likely to agree that work comes first, but you are not a machine - "me time" is still important to you, but you tend to get your sense of balance by being very well organised and making every second count. You are on your way up, but acknowledge that your attitude to work could cause problems in your personal life in the future.

You are probably well established in an important position with serious responsibilities. You are proud of your work and generally enjoy it, but you are getting to a point where issues of balance are becoming more important.

However, you feel that it is hard for you to work fewer hours or take a more relaxed attitude to work without compromising your career or letting down your business. You think about this quite a lot, but cannot see a way around the problem. Forty per cent of Treadmill Athletes in the DTI research admitted to feeling stressed.

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