So the holiday season is almost upon us - and many working women, despite all the well intentioned planning, end up concluding that there are just not enough hours in the day to do your job and satisfy the annual attempt to be a domestic goddess - Ok, for me it is an annual attempt as I have given up hope on the 11 other months of the year!
However sitting on a plane travelling across the Atlantic last week with no e-mail and the phone switched off, I started to enjoy a sense of relief and empowerment to do other things - non-work related dare I say. I worked for a good chunk of the 10 hours, wrote a Festive "to do" list, but then I actually read a magazine and watched a movie - with limited guilt.
What does this say about the world in which we live? I realise it might say something about me but I sense I am not alone. I feel time poor but actually is some of it my own making?
Nike is getting a great deal of coverage for its new one-minute commercial - designed to get us all running. If you have not watched or listened to it - I recommend you do. Time is precious is the rallying cry of the ad which is so very, very simple - using animated words only, a women's voiceover and a clock ticking down to an alarm. It admonishes us for spending 10 hours a day - "that's 32 years of your life" - hooked to our screens watching or posting rubbish primarily on social media.
My immediate reaction to the Nike ad was to think "they are right" - this is my fault - it's about my time management - but then actually I stopped myself. I am not spending 10 hours a day on social media and watching catch-up TV. I don't have 10 hours to claw back from my "screens" - and I suspect that would be the reaction of a huge swathe of time crunched souls like me.
The truth is more that the "always on" and for some "always on global" world in which we live means we are more time starved than ever - so much so that employers need to be vigilant and ready to respond. The client that had taken me over to the US is right now experimenting in a number of their locations with fresh efforts to give employees space to think. Innovation is at the heart of their business success and they are worrying that employees feel tied to one mode of operating - by being present in the office. It's not about working from home days - it is about a sense of freedom, underpinned by trust, to work when and where they choose, to do their best and drive the right outcome.
Some fascinating research published earlier this year in the US involving 4,400 people at all levels in the workplace and across a wide variety of sectors, revealed that given the choice between more money and more time, people consistently choose time. Interestingly the same research also showed that those who chose time over money were also consistently the happiest. There was a difference between the time and money choosers - the time-choosers were on average older, more likely to have kids and to be married. Probably not a surprise but then this group in any organisation could probably represent the next cadre of leadership, the upcoming research scientist, the software engineer just settling down - all of whom equate to critical pipeline talent.
In the end this all boils down to having a corporate culture where the goals of the organisation and the employee align - and as part of that leadership behaviour is key. Calls from your boss at 9pm in the evening as a regular feature of working life is probably not a great experience - unless you are signed up to that because you get the chance to flex to accommodate that pattern. It is fundamentally a sense of choice - that's what we want and yearn for.
So to any reader who is a people leader in business, as you look forward to the thought of a few days respite over the Festive Season, ask yourself whether you are really giving time to your employees to flourish - because if not that is probably the best present they could get - and the odds are they will be happier for it.