High season is upon us here at Happy Holidays in France. What was supposed to be a job whilst I take a career break in France, perfecting my French, is starting to feel very much as though it is taking over my life. Perhaps this isn’t helped by mobile phones and emails which mean my customers can reach me 24 hours a day with any query (some small and minor, some serious and urgent).
Having done some very demanding roles in my time, work / life balance always seemed like the Holy Grail – something highly desirable to achieve, but usually just out of reach. Was it was actually about the roles / jobs I was doing that stopped me having a life apart from work, or was it is actually me – my ways of working, enthusiasm, determination to do a good job – that actually is the issue. Perhaps I like working long hours, often without a break, or feel that I have to?
A simple example – taking a lunch break. At one of my previous employers we actually had a ‘Take back your lunch break’ campaign to encourage people to take some time out during the working day. (Study after study shows it actually boosts productivity and is good for us.) We went so far as to offer incentives such as free head massages, live music and free food. A few people took advantage of what we offered and participated, but the majority didn’t. We asked those who didn’t take part why and had answers such as ‘I’m too busy. If I take time out I’ll get more behind.’ ’My manager never takes a lunch break and looks down on people in the team who do.’ (Did I take part too? I’m sad to report that I was also in the ‘too busy’ camp and didn’t.)
I told this story to a French colleague recently, who was outraged. ‘How can you not take a lunch break?’ she exclaimed. She and her colleagues who work at the resort always take at least an hour for lunch, sometimes an hour and a half, even on the busiest days. It is a key part of the French culture and the French work place that everyone takes their ‘l’heure de déjeuner’. The resort doesn’t suddenly grind to a halt, the work still gets done and they keep their sanity.
Perhaps something for me to think about the next time a text or phone call interrupts my lunch….. Maybe some balance is possible after all if I choose to make it so.