CFO Yusuf Bodiat unpacks his thoughts around work-life integration

Yusuf explains that work is just a small piece of the pie when balancing life, and should be given the respective time.

Everyone is striving to have a work-life-balance to be happier and more productive. Initially, the problem with this was that people assumed, in order to have a work-life balance, all areas of their life had to be in a constant equilibrium. It didn’t work.

Then came “work-life-integration”, which involves blending both your personal and professional responsibilities, rather than viewing work and personal time as separate. Now, we see posts on social media where new parents are on video calls while having infants and toddlers sitting on their laps, or where someone dials into a meeting from their child’s sporting event, or even while waiting at the doctor’s office.

While these examples may result in employees being connected while multitasking, the level of engagement and focus on the work, as well as on the family, is diminished. There are numerous studies that suggest, and even prove, that when our brain is constantly switching gears to bounce back and forth between tasks, especially when those tasks are complex and require our active attention, we become less efficient and more likely to make a mistake.

As a result, multitasking can hinder performance and is counterproductive. Although we feel and believe that as we multitask we are making progress on many things simultaneously, we are in fact setting ourselves up for failure, as we need to correct those mistakes in the future, which is often where late nights and weekends are lost.

After spending time reflecting on the above myself, and learning to understand what might or might not work for me, I realised that the concept of work-life-balance, or work-life-integration, is flawed to a large extent.

The ultimate shortfall with this is that it suggests we need to devote a similar or equal time to work and to life. However, the fundamental challenge here is that work relates only to our career. Life, on the other hand, relates to family, physical wellbeing, mental health, friends, hobbies, as well as religion and soul.

In order to balance or integrate work with all aspects of our lives, a mindset change needs to occur, as we need to appreciate and realise that the work portion is a smaller piece of the pie.

There is a famous speech by a previous CEO of Coca-Cola Beverages Bryan Dyson where he speaks about the five balls of life. He explains that the ball of “work” is made of rubber and will always bounce back if it falls, whereas the other balls – “family, health, friends and spirit” – are made of glass and will shatter if they fall. Yet, we treat the work ball as the glass one and the other balls as rubber.

I recently took some time off work where I made a deliberate decision to “switch off” completely, which included leaving my computer at home, not browsing through emails or messaging services at all, and not taking any phone calls. This was quite tough for me to do, as I generally have the bad habit of being available during my off time.

During my “switched off” period, I realised:

  • Proactive planning is required to make sure all my deliverables were completed before I took time off
  • Being able to switch off completely takes practice and dedication
  • The work still went on without me
  • Everyone respected my time off and there were very few tasks that needed my immediate attention on my first day back
  • The first day back needed to be dedicated to the emails that had piled up while I was away.

Perhaps the important lesson has been that we need to take ownership of our time, separate work from personal time, and concentrate on what’s important in our lives. Although we all strive for a good work-family-health-friends-spirit balance, we are all unique in what that means to us and how we will get to that point of harmony and happiness.

Whether that point of harmony exists, is something I still need to figure out. Until that realization occurs, I will continue to navigate through this maze with both caution and optimism, along with everyone else in pursuit of this goal.