This week is National Work Life Week! This initiative, set up by Working Families UK, has given us an opportunity to take stock, assess our work life balance at PiPA and the work life balance of those we employ.
A healthy work-life balance means different things to different people. It’s not necessarily about splitting your time 50/50 between work and personal life, because the world isn’t that binary, but making sure people are fulfilled and content in both areas of life. For Cassie, who likes to live life at high speed, this might mean a slightly different split of working hours to fit in all the different elements that keep her on track, a cheeky 8am ice swim for example. For Anna, it often means being able to drop off and collect her children from different schools and clubs, or being able to support her family abroad when needed. All of these things are valid and valuable.
At PiPA, as a small and entirely remote working organisation, we have to give a lot of focus to promoting team cohesion, well-being and work-life balance. Over the past two years, we’ve worked extensively with an external HR Consultant Jen Lawrence to help us tackle some of the knottier issues around working remotely and creating an inclusive and positive working culture with flexibility at the heart of it.
We are also a highly accountable charity on a budget and have big ambitions and key deliverables, just like all of our partners. We understand the tension between where we’d ideally like to be and what is realistically sustainable in order to have the greatest impact at the same time as supporting our staff. It can’t always be about financial enhancements as anyone who runs an SME will tell you, but there’s a lot you can do with a little, and not all enhancements have to be financial to be impactful.
Therefore, in order for flexibility to work, for both us as an employer and the individual, it’s vital that a supporting infrastructure is in place that enables everyone to understand what is required of them and when.
This is very much a work-in-progress and, having worked to embed a learning culture in the charity, we give ourselves permission to get it wrong, as long as we learn and evolve.
Work-Life Balance at PiPA
Below are a couple of examples of some of the initiatives we have at PiPA that we believe promote a good work-life balance, within the constraints of running a small SME on a very limited budget. Most of our enhancements are not financial but hopefully make a difference in supporting people to manage their work and family life.
We kick off each week with a Teams meeting which is a mixture of personal and professional updates and we lead by example. It’s important to hear senior leaders in organisations talking about their challenges with kids or big family life events so that people know that when they are late for work because it’s all gone wrong in the morning, it’s okay to be honest about it, or if childcare has fallen through at the end of the day and you can’t find cover, it’s ok to say that, or when you’re in a meeting and you get a message saying your mums had a fall, you’ve just simply got to go.
- We have core hours at PiPA but around that people can work at a time that suits them, and it doesn’t need to be the same times every week. September is of course back-to-school and many of our team had children starting or transitioning to a new school. We know that the beginning of September is a pinch point for the team, and we are ready to give extra space to support people to change their work rhythm to the ever-changing life needs. It might be a strike day, or you might have an inset day, but it’s important to us that our team is supported to work in a way that adheres to their values.
Working from home, remote working and other types of flexibility are not without their challenges. Working from home has always had benefits for us, but it can be tough for employees. During Covid the world was thrust into homeworking as an emergency way of working where we initially saw the two worlds collide but for many ultimately, the two worlds were able to co-exist. Recently however remote and flexible working, as we have come to know it, has been drawing increasingly negative feedback and what’s important to remember is that flexibility of any kind is designed to reduce stress and promote well-being and is anything but a way of working only during a time of crisis. For that reason it requires careful thought and planning and an attitude we encourage with our partner organisations: trial, evaluate, revise, embed.
Here are some of the ways in which we are trailing new ways of working in our quest for better work-life balance for all:
- We are currently experimenting with in-person working days, to build team cohesion, at different locations across the UK. Last week the team travelled from as far as Scotland, Yorkshire and Exeter to meet in London, and next month we’ll be meeting in Sheffield.
- As a small team, predominantly part-time, communication and workplan structures are vital for ensuring we are all in the loop. Workplans are a good tool for providing guidance and focus to make sure that everyone hits their markers, so everyone has clarity about what is required of them and by when so they can work efficiently and effectively. That way we can better manage our time.
A key element of this is regular IDS meetings. This stands for Identify, Discuss and Solve. The purpose of these meetings is that anyone who has a milestone on the horizon that they are worried about can bring it to the meeting for everyone to support. Usually out of this collective brainstorming comes the solution and if not, the person who brought the issue at the very least is supported.
We believe this structure helps people feel better about work and life because it helps when we schedule our day-to-day around our values and beliefs. Not only do we get a feeling of self-accomplishment but the payoff is that when you know you’ve achieved something you don’t need to spend another minute online and can go and spend time with your family/ walking your dog/ going for a run or whatever it is you do to feel good.
It’s early days for many of these systems and processes but it’s all about trialling solutions so we can adapt and adopt the best possible strategies to achieve our goals.
Here are two PiPA resources that you might feel are helpful, delivered in partnership with UK Theatre, with work-life-balance expert and PiPA Chair, Sarah Jackson OBE
And finally, if you want to work in an industry that values work-life balance, where people are valued and life is not an afterthought, please take the Balancing Act survey and help make the change YOU want to see. This survey is for ALL Performing Arts workers, whether permanent or contract/freelance, backstage, onstage or office-based, to determine current issues around work-life balance, parenting and caring and the way we work. You don’t need to be a parent or carer and you can work in any part of the industry, your voice matters. Help create a resilient future for our industry. Please share with your friends and colleagues.
Happy Work Life Balance week!
Cassie and Anna