The average person spends 40 hours a week at work, for 45 years of their life.
There is no denying working is a good thing, it gives us a sense of pride, increases our self-esteem and provides us with significance. Beyond this, and for many, we are providing for our families. The challenge here, we can often work so hard and for such long hours, that we sacrifice time with our family. The one thing we are focused on working for is the self-same thing we make the least time to enjoy.
As a life coach, I recall working with a client, Tom, who would be deemed by society to be successful, the usual achievements of the house, car, providing his children a good education, etc. In our first session, he made a comment that has remained with me, “I recently took my son to start University, and on the journey home it dawned on me, I have no idea who he is. I’ve spent so much time working to provide for my family, that I haven’t spent any time with them.” Tom had to work through the realisation that the time he had missed he couldn’t reclaim but he could change his relationship with work and family moving forward. In this article, I’ll share with you reasons time with your family makes you happier, healthier and actually improves your performance at work.
In the book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, Stephen Covey shares the habit of ‘begin with the end in mind’. Often when we begin our working day and come across the challenges we often face in our roles, we lose sight of the reasons we are working. We fall into the trap of just thinking it’s something we do, it’s something everybody does. Or we connect to payday and think about getting money for our contribution. We need to focus on looking beyond the job and pay slip and focus on what it is working actually provides us. Our homes, our clothes, food and ultimately providing you and your family happiness and security. Those tough days are easier when we connect to the bigger picture of what our job does for us and our family.
Following on from connecting to what you’re working for, comes actually enjoying it. If you see your work as an investment in yours and your families future, you are fundamentally failing if you don’t then proactively seek a return on your investment. Time with your family is your return on investment. Wherever possible your working day should end at your front door and as you enter home life you should do just that, enter home life. Be present for your family, proactively engage with them and enjoy time with them. Not doing this is like investing in a savings account and every day taking the interest you have accrued and throwing it away.
Time with your family forces you to unwind, particularly if you focus on being completely present and stop your mind from drifting. One way to do this is to engage in time with your family and say to yourself ‘this moment only exists once, I owe it to myself to savour it’. A further return on investment, specific to parents, is children who have the most present and supportive parents are least likely to develop problems as young adults. It’s not the holidays, the presents, the nice clothes or the school trips that make the difference, it’s you being there.
Research by hospice clinician Bronnie Ware on the top regrets of the dying identified the top three as; I wish I had pursued what was important to me, I wish I hadn’t worked so hard and I wish I’d chosen to be happier.
It may be a morbid fact, but no one on their death bed wishes they’d worked more. The good news is time with your family and actually helps you to live longer. A review of 48 different studies that involved over 300,000 people revealed one consistency; people who had stronger social relationships had a higher percentage of living longer. Placing yourself in the family environment forces you to relax, unwind and gain perspective. I often remark to my clients, if you need to take your mind off work, find a toddler and proactively listen to what they tell you, they won’t give you the time to think, and that’s a good thing!
If you’ve spent time with your family this gives you the freedom to focus on and enjoy your working day. You can avoid the niggling voice in your head attempting to make you feel guilty for not paying more attention to your partner, or not spending time with your children. If you’re feeling guilty because you aren’t being present enough at home, I am here to tell you, the solution is not trying all day to put this out of your mind but actually being present at home. Knowing you’re going home to family and spending quality time with them also boosts your optimism throughout the day and can support you in remaining positive in your work. Whatever your working day throws at you, you know the day ends with spending time with those in the World who mean the most to you and for whom you do this for.
It’s not just your focus that improves at work once you’ve had family time, being with family also develops your skills. These skills are completely transferable to your work life. Engaging with your family improves your communication, your ability to adapt to challenging situations which also improves your resilience, and solving your children’s problems makes you better at solving your own, personal and professional. Time for the big one, being with your family allows you to build your empathy, understanding things from the perspectives of other people, the ones who mean the most to you. Empathy is one of the most primary skills for being successful in any role and particularly as a manager or leader.
One of the first activities I complete with my clients is to have them assess their level of satisfaction with all the different aspects of their life, of which family is a key area. So, let me end with a couple of questions, on a scale of 1-10 where 1 is completely dissatisfied and 10 is completely satisfied, how satisfied are you with your commitment to your family? Where you scored less than 10, ask yourself, what’s the one thing you could do today to improve this? Now… do it!
To review your life in its entirety and score your level of satisfaction, identifying areas for development, you can download a free Wheel of Life here.