The Times of London: Comfort Versus Career
From The Times
March 3, 2008
Comfort versus career
The US life coach advises an IT manager at a career crossroads
Richard Barton-Wood has what he acknowledges is, for him, a near perfect work/life balance. At 39, he
is an IT manager for a pharmaceutical company. His office is half an hour’s drive from his home near
Winchester and he usually finishes at 4pm each day. He and his wife Samantha own a two-berth
powerboat which is moored in Southampton.
“My hours allow me to be sitting at home with a cup of tea by late afternoon, or even to nip down to the
coast and spend the evening on the boat. For me, this takes some beating. However, my dilemma is that
after nine-and-a-half years with the same company, I have been offered a fantastic new job. It offers fresh
challenges and potentially exciting opportunities, but the work/life balance is different. My commuting time
would be doubled, I would be expected to work longer hours and the life side of my balance would be
restricted to weekends. I applied for the position, so I accept that I am, in many ways, ready for change.
But I wonder, are there any steps I can take to prevent losing too much of the balance I currently have?
Richard’s typical working day
7am Get up, shower and breakfast. I’m a morning person.
7.30am Drive to work. Going early means missing the heavy traffic.
8am At my desk and straight into e-mails before a series of meetings, discussions and presentations.
Noon Break for lunch – normally a sandwich in the canteen with my colleagues.
12.30pm Return to my desk, andmore meetings. I work in an open-plan office, which I like. There’s a lot
of interaction and it’s sociable.
4pm Leave work, arriving home at 4.30pm – before the rush hour picks up.
4.30-7pm Chat with Samantha and spend some time relaxing in the garden if it’s sunny. In summer we
might head straight for the coast, and can be over in Cowes by early evening. I’ve been sailing since the
age of 7. For me, being on board is about rest, relaxation and pure escapism.
7-8pm If we’re at home, supper.
8-10pm Surf the internet, looking at boating websites. We might watch a film or documentary, or I might
read – I enjoy travel and photography books.
10-10.30pm Bed. I sleep easily and soundly.
Richard said that he wants to be clear about what’s involved in this new job opportunity, so he can make
a good decision. At his present company, he explained, teleconferencing is common and flexibility in both
working hours and working from home are standard. His new opportunity is with a company that
maintains more traditional working hours.
I asked him how much, on a scale of 1 to 10, the company wanted to hire him. He felt confident that it
was in the 8 or 9 range. We talked about how this clearly gives Richard some leverage in his
As we brainstormed the work/life balance issue, he started to develop a negotiating strategy. One thing
he may consider is putting in longer days so that he can have Friday afternoons off once or twice a
month. Another option would be to go in to work early so he can leave ahead of the heavy afternoon
I asked if he knew of any research studies on the benefits that companies received from flexible working
practices. He said not, but added that he could see if there were any on the internet.
I also asked if he could broach the idea of the company experimenting with a new model. He was excited
by the possibility of proposing a flexitime pilot programme so that the company could evaluate how it
worked before deciding to implement any change of policy.
How are they faring?
Late last year, 35-year-old Katrine McPherson-Kelly, a senior scientist and technical brand manager with
Procter & Gamble, asked Ginger for advice. An analysis of her work/life balance revealed that she
struggles with feelings of guilt over how best to combine a demanding work schedule with (new)
motherhood. Ginger asked her to design an ideal week (planning her food, time off, exercise, etc) that
would have in it all the things that she wants, and would allow her to be guilt-free.
What was the outcome?
Katrine: “I have designed the ideal week, but it meant doing a lot of investigation. I read a book on
nutrition, and my family and I are eating better. We now schedule our weekly shop – which means that we
plan our meals.
“My husband and I are discussing how to use our holiday time so as to look after baby Jack better. We
are considering taking Fridays off for the rest of the year to spend more time with him. He would then go
to nursery for only four days a week, and stay with one of us on the Friday.
“We have also banned TV in the evenings, which gives us more time together as a family. It has made a
big difference. We often used to go into town at weekends and we are trying to limit that to once a month,
too, to give us more time.
“With the extra time we have, we can do more activities with Jack – such as taking him swimming or to
“I have also realised that it’s important to keep up running twice a week, as I enjoy it so much. Finally I’ve
decided that, when I return to the office, I will allocate one night a week to working late – and because it’s
planned, I won’t feel guilty about it.”
Ginger: “Once Katrine realised that she could apply her project management skills to designing her own
life, she seized the challenge. As her follow-up shows, she took the time to do research, which gave her
the resources she needed to make changes.
“She collaborated with her husband to make sure that they have time together, gave herself time to run
regularly, and scheduled special times with baby Jack. Looking at her calendar and discovering that she
can take Fridays off for the rest of the year is a result of her project plan. Now the plan is in place and dates are scheduled, she can be confident that it will be implemented.”
© Copyright 2008 Times Newspapers Ltd.