Actually they don’t care how hard you play

October 16, 2017

One of the (many) problems I have with the modern business world is all the cliches, platitudes and, frankly, meaningless banality that we are bombarded with, usually dreamt up by coaches like me.

One such that I was pondering recently is the label that some individuals and companies give themselves to indicate that they are serious.  They take their professional responsibilities seriously, and when they are not at work they let their hair down in an equally committed way.  They  boast that they are people who “work hard and play hard”. When companies describe themselves in this way they’re really telling us that they expect their employees to work hard, and that they are looking to recruit high energy, outgoing people. I don’t think they are particularly bothered about how hard their employees play.

Where in the work hard, play hard philosophy is the message that rest and relaxation are also important for a healthy, balanced life? Lunch is for wimps, and so, it seems, is sleep.


Source: US National Archive and Records Administration

Recent research tells us that greater happiness can be achieved if people slept more.  The problem we face at the moment is not that we don’t “play” hard enough, it’s that we don’t sleep hard enough. Happiness is the point here because what people are quickly realising is that happiness is really what they seek above anything.

The research, commissioned by Sainsbury’s, came out a while ago and it received fairly widespread coverage so I won’t go over the details.  For those that are interested in reading more on it you can download their Living Well Index report here.

Another recent study appears to suggest that the risk of Alzheimer’s can be reduced if people slept more owing to a discovery that a lack of sleep increases the presence of a brain protein that is linked to the illness. More on that here.

To mark World Mental Health Day on October 11th the headteacher of a west London secondary school gave out alarm clocks to pupils, with a note to parents inviting them to take away connected devices at night in an effort to encourage the youngsters to go to sleep.  The excuse is often made by youngsters that they need their phone for the alarm function in the morning.  No doubt teenagers are resourceful enough to get around this idea, but the message is important, if symbolic.

Another problem with the work hard culture is that it discriminates in favour of those who have fewer commitments outside work, like family, and we all know what that boils down to; women, in particular, are held back in this way.

Instead of crowing about being a place where people work hard and play hard, I’d like to see more employers encouraging staff to work hard but not long hours, to ensure they eat a healthy diet, exercise, spend time with friends and family and critically, to get a good night’s sleep. They can start by ensuring that their senior managers set the right example by leaving at a reasonable time, encouraging their team members to do the same, and by making it clear that staying late is not impressive.

That way they will end up with a far more productive workforce than they would if they encouraged people to burn themselves out.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s 2am and I need to watch a bit of telly.



A new thing every year

January 18, 2016

At the risk of sounding like one of those (un)charismatic life coach guru types, this week’s piece is a call to action, ra-ra-ra, go for it, just do it, bouncy encouragement thing.

A few years ago I made a decision to take on a new challenge of some type every year.  In all honesty it wasn’t planned that way.  It was retrospective in that I did a challenge then decided that I would find another one each year.

That first challenge was a physical one.  I rode a bike up a very long and steep mountain in France.  I’ve written about this challenge and the profound impact it had on me elsewhere and since then the challenges have included learning to weld, trying (again) to learn a musical instrument and this year I have taken up ballroom dancing (second lesson this evening). Perhaps one day I will summon up the courage to try to learn a foreign language.

Why do I promote this?  There’s no intrinsic benefit in taking on something new on an annual basis, but there is a benefit in continual learning.  One of the major health concerns for us as we live longer is dementia.  The Alzheimer’s Association have identified six pillars for prevention of that particular form of dementia:

  1. Regular exercise
  2. Healthy diet
  3. Mental stimulation
  4. Quality sleep
  5. Stress management
  6. An active social life

I’m particular persuaded that new activities forcing you to use parts of the brain you don’t generally use is especially good for you.

These, unsurprisingly, match the factors I have long recommended for people looking to achieve a healthy work-life balance.  A challenge a year could take care of a number of these six factors depending on what you decide to take up as your challenge.

Beyond that, pushing yourself beyond your known limits is one of the most life affirming things you can do, as I found on my cycle challenge.

Long before many of us stop working, we stop learning.  We’re just going through the motions for much of the time.  I’m not saying we’re sleepwalking through our jobs, and clearly there are some roles that require us to constantly think and learn, but for many the parts of the brain that are associated with leaning are minimally stimulated and I’m sure that the reason dementia is becoming such a concern is because we are living longer, and therefore are living for more and more years without sufficient mental stimulation.

So here’s me, standing on a big stage at the O2 with a microphone headset bullying you into committing to learn something new in 2016.  Watch out Tony Robbins. Next years’ challenge for me is to be you.