Life's work: Success story for the nineties

Rich and powerful? How old-fashioned of you, says Emma Cook
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Jonathan freelances three days a week for a music publisher and has just turned down a full-time contract - he prefers the freedom of working for himself. He has no mortgage and he has just sold his car to finance a four-week break in Indonesia. Jonathan, 30, enjoys his career but not as much as his social life.

Ten years ago, the Jonathans of this world would have been perceived as the losers, but today his attitude is commonplace. "I want to do well at work - I enjoy responsibility and hope to achieve my potential. But to me the successful people are those who can do that and still be aware of their priorities. I always say, living happens outside work. What I choose to do after 6pm defines my personality."

In the Eighties, work was the all-defining experience - nothing else mattered. But that's when slogging your guts out for the company guaranteed telephone number salaries, expensive cars and designer suits. Today it just means you'll keep your job - if you're lucky. Since status and achievement are no longer the rewards for an all-consuming work schedule, definitions of success have altered radically. The conspicuous wealth that was part and parcel of the Eighties' city slicker image now seems vulgar and naff.

According to European Commission figures, Britons work the longest hours in Europe - one in 59 people work more than 70 hours a week. Add to this another recent survey carried out by the Institute of Management where 61 per cent of 1,100 male managers interviewed stated they would like to spend less time at work and more time with family and friends. Small wonder, then, that today's winners are no longer perceived as the hard workers but the ones who are fortunate enough to enjoy a balance between work and play, work-based achievement and personal fulfilment.

Stephen Palmer, psychologist and director of the Centre for Stress Management, explains: "There's been a philosophical shift - people feel that money isn't everything." His phrase for this new development is "Me plc". Mass redundancies and down-sizing have both made a difference, he says. "Everyone knows the company will dump on them so they think, `Look after number one'."

A brief flick through any work directory shows that organisations that reflect these aspirations such as Parents at Work and New Ways to Work are gaining some ground. Howard Davies, the deputy governor of the Bank of England and patron of Parents at Work, is determined to combine a demanding career with family commitments. "It should be possible to find a balance even if you're at the top of the organisation. In the past having a child was the sort of thing people looked down their nose at - as if it is a silly phase you go through before you can continue to be married to the company. I found myself having to assert different values."

Now that Davies, 45, has two young children he declines breakfast meetings and keeps evening appointments to a minimum. "You have to make sure you don't have a culture that says unless you're not still in the office at 7pm, you're not committed."

Part of this change in values may have as much to do with women's presence in the workplace as a decrease in work loyalties. As Mark Hastings, policy adviser for the Institute of Management says: "The workplace often accepts that women have commitments outside; to pick up the kids from school or take time off when a child is ill. For men it's been more of an issue: why can't they do those things as well?"

But in a way it's nothing new that young professionals - especially women - shift their priorities once they start a family. What's interesting is that that workers without a family are starting to adopt a similar attitude; that giving your all to the nine-to-five rat-race just isn't worth it, with or without the financial rewards.

Candice Blackwood, 33, a solicitor and partner in the City firm Maxwell Batley, has no children but made a conscious attempt this summer to nurture a life outside work. "I qualified in 1986 when it was all fast cars and drinking champagne on client accounts. My identity got swallowed up in work. My idea of success then was becoming a partner." She did that two years ago but now, she says, her aspirations have changed. "I'm standing back from it and seeing that work isn't the be-all-and-end-all. I've cut down on the networking side of it and out-of-hours entertaining. Now I feel success means having a job that's fulfilling while leaving enough time for oneself. I'm not into material values so much."

Sadly, for a sizable percentage of workers, longer working hours, less time with the family, increased stress levels and no job security are still the reality. Which is why a life outside the rat-race suddenly seems so crucial - and ultimately beneficial. As Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at Umist, says: "It's healthy that we're reflecting on these issues. If people get the balance right in their private life and do more things for themselves they will also perform better in their work." Howard Davies certainly seems to be a good example of this. "For me, success doesn't mean money," he says. "But the balance between private and working life. I wouldn't put that at risk - being with my children is too much fun."

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