TEDxSydney – Nigel Marsh – Work Life Balance is an Ongoing Battle

TEDxSydney – Nigel Marsh – Work Life Balance is an Ongoing Battle


Translator: Nelia Losada
Reviewer: Diba Szamosi Wasn’t Bred fantastic? I thought that was just really terrific, but it has left me feeling slightly technologically challenged, because I haven’t got any satellite videos. (Laughter) Truth to be told, I haven’t got any slides either. What I thought I would do is I would start with a simple request. I’d like all of you to pause for a moment, you wretched weaklings, and take stock of your miserable existence. (Laughter) That was the advice that Saint Benedict gave his rather startled followers in the fifth century. It was the advice that I decided to follow myself when I turned 40. Up until that moment, I had been a classic corporate warrior. I was eating too much,
I was drinking too much, I was working too hard and I was neglecting my family. And I decided that I would try
and turn my life around. In particular, I decided I would try to address the thorny issue of work-life balance. So, I stepped back from the workforce and I spent a year at home with my wife and four young children. But all I learnt about work-life balance
from that year was that I found it quite easy
to balance work and life when I didn’t have any work. (Laughter) Not a very useful skill, especially when the money runs out. So I went back to work and I have spent these seven years since struggling with, studying and writing about work-life balance. I have four observations
I would like to share with you today. The first is, if society
is to make any progress on this issue, we need a honest debate. But the trouble is so many people talk so much rubbish about work-life balance. All the discussions about flexi-time or dress-down Fridays or paternity leave only serve to mask the core issue, which is that certain job and career choices are fundamentally incompatible with being meaningfully engaged on a day-to-day basis with a young family. The first step in solving any problem is acknowledging the reality
of the situation you’re in. And the reality of the society that we are in is there are thousands and thousands
of people out there leading lives of quiet,
screaming desperation where they work long,
hard hours at jobs they hate, to enable them to buy things
they don’t need, to impress people they don’t like. (Laughter) (Applause) It is my contention that going to work
on a Friday in jeans and T-shirt isn’t really getting into the nub of the issue. (Laughter) (Applause) The second observation I’d like to make is really to face the truth that governments and corporations aren’t going to solve this issue for us. We should stop looking outside. It is up to us as individuals to take control and responsibility
for the type of lives that we want to lead. If you don’t design your life,
someone else will design it for you, and you may just not like
their idea of balance. It is particularly important — this isn’t in the World Wide Web, is it?
I am about to get fired. It is particularly important
that you never put the quality of your life in the hands of a commercial corporation. I am not talking here just about
the bad companies, the ‘abattoirs of the human soul’ as I call them, (Laughter) I am talking about all companies, because commercial companies
are inherently desgined to get as much out of you as they can get away with. It’s in their nature, it’s in their DNA,
it’s what they do even the good,
well-intentioned companies. On the one hand, putting childcare facilities
in the workplace is wonderful and enlightened. On the other hand,
it is a nightmare that just means you spend more time at the bloody office. We have to be responsible
for setting and enforcing the boundaries that we want in our life. The third observation is we have to be careful with the time frame that we choose
upon which to judge our balance. Before I went back to work
after my year at home, I sat down and I wrote out a detailed, step-by-step description of the ideal balanced day that I aspired to. And it went like this: Wake up well rested
after a good night’s sleep. Have sex. (Laughter) Walk the dog. Have breakfast with my wife and children. Have sex again. (Laughter) Drive the kids to school
on the way to the office. Do three hours’ work. Play sport with a friend at lunchtime. Do another three hours’ work. Meet some mates in the pub
for an early evening drink. Drive home for dinner with my wife and kids. Meditate for half an hour. Have sex. Walk the dog. Have sex again. (Laughter) Go to bed. (Applause) How often do you think I have that day? (Laughter) We need to be realistic. You can’t do it all in one day. We need to elongate the time frame upon which we judge the balance in our life but we need to elongate it
without falling into the trap of the “I’ll have a life when I retire,
when my kids have left home, when my wife has divorced me,
my health is failing, I have got no mates or interests left.” (Laughter) A day is too short,
“after a retire” is too long. It has got to be a middle way. The fourth observation: we need to approach balance
in a balanced way. A friend came to see me last year — she doesn’t mind me telling the story. A friend came to see me last year and said “Nigel, I’ve read your book and I have realised my life
is completely out of balance. It is totally dominated by work. I work 10 hours a day,
I commute 2 hours a day. All my relationships have failed. There is nothing in my life
apart from my work. So I have decided to get a grip and sort it out. So I have joined the gym.” (Laughter) Now, I don’t mean to mock but being a fit,
ten-hour-a-day office rat isn’t more balanced, it is more fit. (Laughter) Lovely though physical exercise may be,
there are other parts to life. There is the intellectual side,
there is the emotional side, there is the spiritual side. And to be balanced, I believe
we have to attend to all of those areas. Not just do 50 stomach crunches. That can be daunting,
because people say “Bloody hell, mate,
I haven’t got time to get fit and you want me to go to church
and call my mother.” And I understand, I truly understand
how that can be daunting. But an incident that happened
a couple of years ago gave me a new perspective. My wife, who is somewhere
in the audience today, called me up at the office and said “Nigel, you need to pick our youngest son up,
Harry, from school.” She had to be somewhere else
with the other three children for that evening. So I left work an hour early that afternoon and picked Harry up at the school gates. We walked down to the local park, messed around on the swings,
played some silly games. I then walked him up the hill to the local café and we shared a pizza for tea. Then, walked down the hill to our home and I gave him a bath and put him
in his Batman pijamas. I then read him a chapter of Roald Dahl’s
James and the Giant Peach”. I then put him to bed, tucked him in, gave him a kiss on his forehead
and said “Goodnight, mate.” And walked out of his bedroom. As I was walking out of his bedroom, he said, “Dad?”,
I went “Yes, mate?” he went,
“Dad, this has been the best day of my life. Ever.” I hadn’t done anything. I hadn’t taken him to Disney World
or bought him a Playstation. Now, my point is the small things matter. Being more balanced doesn’t mean
dramatic upheaval in your life. With the smallest investment
in the right places you can radically transform
the quality of your relationships and the quality of your life. Moreover, I think it can transform society because if enough people do it, we can change
society’s definition of success away from the moronically simplistic notion that the person with the most money
when he dies wins, to a more thoughtful
and balanced definition of what a life well-lived looks like. And that, I think,
is an idea worth spreading. (Applause)

Danny Hutson

37 thoughts on “TEDxSydney – Nigel Marsh – Work Life Balance is an Ongoing Battle

  1. I liked Julian Morrow's comment on Nigel Marsh's presentation later in the day. Somethng a long the lines of, "Nigel Marsh spoke to us about why it's important to have a work/life balance. On a Saturday…"

  2. Totally inspiring. Most people in his position know what he says is true but few have the guts, or integrity, to publicaly say so. Nigel rocks.

  3. Personally I am very impressed to see Malcolm Turnbull in this audience. A real reflection of his mind.

  4. You make some extremely valuable points Nigel and you should take this message to as many top executives and people of influence as possible. It's exactly this issue that causes so many people in decision-making positions to be short-term focussed. I intend to send this video to as many senior people as I can.

  5. A very worthwhile message for those who haevn't got a reality check mechanism of their own!
    Should be re-visited monthly as a reminder of the real priorities in life.

  6. That's interesting, I've pretty much given on the idea of perusing a career in software because I refuse to work a 40 hour week, having 2 grand of pocket money at the end of the month doesn't make it worth it.
    I wonder if some day I'll be able to walk in to an interview and say "I'll work for 30 hours a week".

  7. Good points well delivered. Pushing these ideals myself cost me my last two jobs and my health but I have no regrets. People come first and should never be compromised for corporate profit and greed.

  8. I wholly agree with his ideals and was trying to have that balanced life until the Recession killed my business. Now I am a signature away from turning my business and my life over to a company of workaholics who are slaves to an inanimate timesheet program. They are all working to create fictional amounts of billable hours in a competition to apease the managers by subconciously creating problems and tasks for each other that make it easier to justify their "long hours". Recessions SUCK!

  9. Great talk. Nigel says he's been working on this for 7 years – has he published his experiences? The two books of his on amazon look related but not specifically focussed on work-life balance. Would love to hear more from him on this.

  10. Nice video – thank you. Read more in the free report "7 ingredients to improve your health and wellbeing" at totalu.com.au

  11. In today's fast-paced world, people are searching for ways to find the perfect work-life balance.A good way to achieve that is to follow a mentor like Nigel Marsh!!
    Good information is at: "life scale balance" .good luck

  12. It's a depression bud. Don't believe the propaganda.

    I hope you found a viable path since your post

    I wish you good luck.

  13. This is what I don't understand about corporations, your young life is way more important. Young life > old money.

  14. Small random acts of kindness can have such a tremendous impact on someone we cannot comprehend their effect……..So start doing them..

  15. Great speech!

    I think trying to keep work and life completely separate is a mistake and a losing battle though.

    Yes, I occasionally check my work email from home. But I also use time at work to set personal appointments, check personal email, answer text messages, etc (and my employer is okay with this).

    Your personal/free time, and your work, are both big parts of your life. Integrate them, let them coexist, and make sure to maintain a healthy balance and you'll be fine. 

  16. I adore that particular perspective of life! Indeed, it takes an observing eye, a sharp mind, and a unique intellectuality to discover it.

  17. The unfortunate reality is that without Unions which protect workers rights, your company will terminate you for 'job adandonment' if you don't work the 80 hour week. This happened to me when I had to care for my father in 2008- I was replaced.

  18. It's back to attitude .
    My colleagues hate the work they do and blame the company , whereas I think they don't recognise how good we've got it.
    And yes , being cognizant of your time with your family is a given if you want joy from life.
    Good job Nige .

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