As many of you who’ve known Di and me for years will know, Winnie the Pooh holds a dear place in our hearts. There is sage wisdom in that ‘bear of little brain’ and we’ve often used stories from Winnie the Pooh in our Meta programmes over the years.

This week I went to see ‘Christopher Robin’, the new Disney film which focuses in on Christopher Robin as he grows up and leaves Pooh, Piglet, Tigger and the other animals behind in Hundred Acre Wood. I was read Winnie the Pooh as a child so I have a particular fondness for him. The film is poignant, deep and surprisingly thought provoking. What I love about Disney and its partner Pixar, is that they seem to be asking the questions of society that perhaps more of us need to be asking.

In the film we see the adult Christopher Robin (played most beautifully by Ewan McGregor) devoid of joy, giving everything to his work, working all hours god sends and not having time for his wife and daughter. All joy seems to have left his life; the fun-loving playful Christopher Robin of Hundred-Acre Wood seems a lifetime away. He’s playing the responsible, stiff, obligated adult extremely well. It comes to the point where he has a choice, to go with his family for a weekend away or return to the office to work on ‘reducing costs and cutting staff’ for his manufacturing bosses. Work wins out and his family leave for the country without him. What’s interesting is that this is not a modern re-imagining – this is happening in post-war London. But the theme I’m sure will be something that will sound familiar to most of you reading this.

OK, so maybe your workplace hasn’t asked you to work on the weekend recently, but how many times have you checked your emails over the weekend or just checked in online on a Sunday night? Maybe you haven’t had to not go on your family holiday, but have you been asked (or just expected) to work longer hours? If you’re a leader have you been asked to reduce costs and reduce headcount? Have you sometimes had to put your organisation first? Have you missed the odd bedtime with your children? Have you not seen as much of your children or your partner as you’d have liked?

This is what Disney is highlighting (among many other things in the film such as loss of innocence, how seriously we take life and how we all need to play more, have more fun and enjoy life) and it’s an issue we all need to look at and do something about.

In a recent survey almost two thirds of staff and leaders interviewed said that if money were not the driver they’d leave their current place of work. In another survey of some 3,000 people, 47% said that their working hours had a heavy impact on their work/life balance and a further 39% said that it did have some kind of impact – that’s a whopping 86% who said that work was impinging into their home life.

This is not something that is going away, it is something that is getting worse, not better. Now I don’t want to paint a bleak future, I want to highlight something that for many of you is very real right now.

The tide of work is still coming in, and it will continue to do so until we ourselves decide that it’s time to stem that tide and create our own non-negotiable boundaries: what we will do and what we will not do for work.

For many of us there just is no work/life balance right now, it is dominated by our work. So how do we redress the balance?

We need to create boundaries, hard boundaries that are not to be crossed (unless in an emergency). For some of us that means turning our technology off over the weekend, for others of us it means always being home in time to tuck our children into bed and read them a bedtime story. For some of us it’s about leaving the office at a pre-determined time every day and for others it’s about always taking a lunch break away from our desk. You choose what the hard boundaries are for you, and then you have the softer more flexible boundaries that allow you to be the flexible worker that organisations need right now. At Meta we see just how committed staff and leaders are to their organisations, so committed that they are working themselves beyond what is sustainably possible – mentally and physically.

This year mental health and well-being are at the forefront of many organisational agendas, and it’s important that they are. Far too many people that we know and love are suffering from stress-related health issues right now. So in order to have that mental health and well–being, we actively need to address the WAY in which we are working, not just put on some yoga classes, give a mental health phone line to call, or promote healthy eating. All of these things are GOOD, don’t get me wrong, but we need to look at the causes of stress within the workplace. We need to address the ‘hard work culture’ we have in many organisations, and the longer hours that inevitably come from having more to do in shorter deadlines, with less staff and less budget. The reality is that most of you reading this are now doing a role that was once done by two or three people.

I’m not advocating a revolution; I’m saying that it’s time to re-assess what’s important in our lives. Nothing should be more important than our own well-being, our families wellbeing and yes, that of our staff too.

It’s time to look at HOW we work, so that we can work in a smarter way, one that understands and maximises our brains amazing powers, one that works in harmony with the physical body we inhabit. We need a way of working that realises that our energy and our state are incredibly important to our ability to perform and that inspiration often comes in the quiet, reflection times.

We need to be looking at creating a fun, dynamic and exciting environment where people can be their creative and brilliant best, a culture that enables all in it to flourish, grow and realise their potential. This requires a shift in mind-set, away from results at all costs and doing things faster for less, into a more sensible, common-sense approach that give realistic deadlines, space to think, create and innovate and, importantly, the right level of resource to enable the BEST results.

This is not just some dream that is unattainable, it is absolutely attainable. Look at many of the global tech-companies who do understand how important it is to create the right culture and environment to enable creative brilliance. Note as well, CEOs, Directors and guardians of your organisational cultures that are reading this, that those companies are also amongst the most profitable and successful in the world.

This isn’t about doing these things to ‘tick the box’ for the mental health and well-being agenda, this is about getting the most from your staff, increasing productivity and creativity through developing the right culture.  It’s about working more effectively and efficiently through smarter working practices that enable all your staff to give of their best more of the time. It’s about reducing sickness and turnover of staff, whilst increasing your organisation’s ability to attract the best talent. It’s about increasing quality and innovation whilst delivering more. In short – it just makes SOUND business sense!

So what can we do about this? Well, first of all, as mentioned earlier, it’s important to have an agreement with yourself about what are your boundaries when it comes to work, and to stick to them. We also here at Meta have a whole raft of smarter working tools, that we’re more than happy to share with you, so do get in touch if you’d like some of those.

If you are a leader, you have some influence. At the very least you have influence over your own team. What can you do to create a team-culture that advocates well-being and work-life balance? What can you do that encourages and enables those that you lead to fulfil their potential and be their very best?

If you are at the top table it’s time to ask a different kind of question. The questions of working practices and organisational culture are not ones that you should put off addressing any longer. In the coming years there will have to be a change in organisational working practices, because the younger generations will not tolerate the hard work, deliver at all costs culture that their parents did. A change is coming, the question is do you want to be ahead of that change curve or lag behind?

The future is not in working hard; the future is in working smarter. At Meta we are really passionate about helping individuals, teams, leaders and their organisations to make that cultural transition. It’s not rocket science; it’s actually much easier than you think. We’ve been doing considerable research into the field of smarter working, mental health and well-being, and cultures that enable excellence. We also love to share what we’ve learnt. So if you’ve enjoyed this blog, why not get in touch and talk to us some more about the topics we’ve touched upon?

In the meantime I hope this blog has given you some food for thought!
And I wish you a wonderful month,

In peace,

Jo xx

About Jo Clarkson

Jo Clarkson is the CEO of Meta and a frequent writer of the Meta-Org.com blog.
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