I was listening to Fraser Mackenzie speak a few days ago. Now Fraser is a Chartered Safety Adviser, and his company, Scotsafe Services provide Health and Safety advice, implementation of management systems, assistance with legislation and training, to companies in construction, the motor trade, engineering and port facilities. I always thought that Health and Safety consultants were even more boring than accountants, but perhaps less so than actuaries. Listening to Fraser the other day made me think that I have perhaps misjudged the breed.
Listening to him set me thinking.
There are two phrases that get trotted out far too often. The first is “work smarter, not harder”. If you run your own business to do more than just earn a basic living, you know this is garbage. If you are serious about your business and want to see it grow, then 95% of us work hard while at the same time looking for ways to do more with the time we can devote to our endeavours and looking for ways to use technology to make us more effective. By the way, the other 5% are the ones who have developed a gold mine of an idea that needs no sweat to earn oodles of cash, and I know a few people like this. So, in reality, you have to work hard and smart. Being smart on its own generally gets you nowhere.
The second one that I hear is that you need to get a better “work life balance”. I once knew an Asian family. They lived in a modest terrace house and had three children, all in their early teens, or thereabouts. The father had a day job. I don’t think it was anything special. He also had a part time job at weekends and in the evenings, he drove a taxi. To me, this guy was dedicated to his family, in that he worked hard long hours to support them. He had made his work life balance choices and he chose to look after his family as best he could, because nobody else was going to do it. If he had worked less, he could have spent more time with his children, but what conditions would they have grown up in.
The people who get to choose their work life balance, in my experience, are those who one way or another already have adequate income to support their lifestyle. They have enough for themselves. But, if they turned their talents to building their business, think about what they could achieve for the people around them, by creating demand for other goods or services or by creating jobs for other people. So, why don’t they do it? They have made their choice, but they could have done so much more.
I think you will perhaps begin to see why I hate these two phrases.
There is a third which gets trotted out if someone is seen to be working too hard.
Some time ago I read an article and it described live crabs in a bucket. Imagine if you will, half a dozen brown crabs in a bucket with enough room for them to move but not that much. One crab climbs on the back of another and manages to grip the edge of the bucket with a claw and starts to pull itself up to escape. So, what do the other crabs do? They grab hold of the enterprising crab that is trying to climb out. Are they trying to pull it back into the safety of the group of crabs so that all together they can be trapped in the same bucket?
People can be a bit like crabs. So, when someone starts to pull away and puts effort into building their business, they are called “workaholics”. Be warned that whenever I hear someone say “workaholic” my mind immediately goes to the story of the crabs. You are trying to pull me back into the comfort of the bucket.
Anyway, getting back to Fraser at Scotsafe Services, this guy works hard long hours supporting his clients and helping them to comply with regulations that, if breached, could jeopardise the future of their businesses. He is supported in the business by his wife, Caroline, and now also has some others working with him. Yet Fraser and Caroline have young children, but these children will grow up in a hard working environment seeing what effort and dedication can achieve. These are valuable lessons. Fraser says that he tries not to work at weekends, and he is looking forward to a couple of weeks off at Xmas, as these are family times. He works hard and smart and yet to me has a perfectly acceptable work life balance.
So why do I mention Fraser? Well, you see, the other morning he was described by someone in my hearing as a workaholic. If that is being a workaholic, it is a shame more people do not follow in his footsteps.
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Alan E Long
The Long Partnership