Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Snoozing into the Boardroom– can we really nap our way to work life balance?

Zen to zzzz... finding balance can be hard

They say be careful what you wish for.  I started this blog partly because I didn't think there was enough debate about some of the practical reasons why women weren't making it into senior roles.  I clearly started a trend - every Sunday the newspapers feature another book,  survey or a conference asking questions and proposing solutions.

One of the latest is from Arianna Huffington who recently held an event in New York exploring the need for the Third Metric – which she defines as a third way of measuring success in the workplace that better suits work life balance.  The first and second are our old friends power and money and she describes this third metric as 'the pursuit of wonder and wisdom'. Seriously? Who signs up to a session helping exploring ’wonder’?.  But the Wellness and the Bottom Line session did catch my eye. 

It was led by clinicians describing the stress we put our bodies under as we juggle to ‘have it all’.  The juggling that we think is a sign of how organized and productive we are actually means having our ‘flight or flight’ responses permanently switched to ‘on’ .  Evolution has meant that we can’t distinguish between running way from a mammoth from crashing through a pile of email while doing the Waitrose order and monitoring the packed lunches.  Our bodies don’t know they’re different and they don’t vary our response.  They just keep us highly stressed to cope.

This is bad for us whether we realize it or not.  All that adrenalin all stored up with nowhere to go can lead to heart problems, high blood pressure, weight gain, you name it.

Poolside naps - double the benefit?
The cure happily seems to be more sleep and more vacations.  And resetting our success measures so that we don’t think a good day is one in which we juggled three more things than we did the day before without keeling over.  Apparently Americans – who seem to get tiny amounts of vacation by European standards – failed to take on average nine days of it last year.  By my calculations that’s nearly half.  I don’t think we’re quite that bad here judging by the queues down the A3 heading for the coast at the slightest glimmer of sunshine, but it’s a worrying trend.

As for sleep, another British survey published recently said that over two thirds of us get seven hours or less a night.  I am a reformed sleep deprivation addict. When I was running a large company I used to get by on around six hours a night.  This went on for several years – and I eventually worked out that at that rate I was missing one night's sleep a week.  Imagining missing one day’s food a week? (actually that might be good for me…).

I read that as you get older you need less sleep.  That might be true in your eighties, but I am making up for lost time.  I try to sleep eight hours a night for the first time in my adult life.  Makes you feel great, its free and you can do it anywhere.  Not many things you can say that about.