Working to live

Advocates of work-life balance recently got a boost from an e-mail that has been circulating among various groups. Written by Ng Wan Ching, the article appeared in Singapore’s The New Paper on May 1, 2007.

The article, entitled “Dead after eight hours on Laptop,” narrated the story of May Leong, 29, who succumbed to what was generally believed to be work-related stress. A few days before her death, she was slaving in front of her laptop, trying to cope with an impossibly heavy workload. She had been working nonstop for eight hours immediately before her death.

The cause of her death was deep vein thrombosis, a blood clot on her legs that shot to her heart.

Deep vein thrombosis is common among those over 60 years old, but people who are inactive for long periods of time such as those on long-haul flights or those who work in front of their computers day in and day out are also at high risk. The blood clot can be fatal as it can break free and travel through the veins. It can reach the lungs in which case it is called a pulmonary embolism.

To prevent this condition, the lower leg muscles should be exercised—every half hour or so—especially if one is inactive for a long period.

The article quoted a psychiatrist who said: “I would always advocate that we take care of ourselves first. If we do not take care of ourselves, we cannot fulfill our roles at work or at home. If you do not feel well, you should listen to your body and rest.”

The story strikes a chord among many work drones for a variety of reasons. There are more than enough human-interest angles in the story including May’s being an only child of a single parent who only wanted to bring some comfort to her aging mother. It also presents a situation to which many can probably relate in today’s highly stressful work environment, such as being inactive for extended periods of time when sitting in front of a computer for hours and hours. And of course, the story puts the spotlight on the most-often discussed but also most-often ignored need for work-life balance.

A couple of weeks ago, I had to see a cardiologist for clearance prior to surgery. The cardiologist was on a very pensive mood when he saw me. It turns out he just finished the rounds of his patients and the case of one business executive struck him. He shared the story with me.

According to my doctor, this particular patient had just recently retired after spending more than 30 years in the rat race, trying to rise to the top of the corporate ladder and earning enough money for retirement. Along the way, he neglected his health thinking that having status, material possessions and a handsome retirement fund were more important priorities.

Of course, the massive heart attack he suffered forced his family to sell off most of the properties he had accumulated through the years. The money for retirement was also dwindling. And now, as my cardiologist put it quite simply, the guy had no money, and worst, had bad health.

This is a thought that has been top of mind lately since my surgery. For someone who tries to juggle many responsibilities, I have been seriously thinking about reducing stress levels and simplifying my life.

Work-life balance is a favorite advocacy of various local management organizations. The truth, however, is that it remains a mere theoretical construct in the Philippines—everyone talks about it, but in reality there are very few actual programs and practices that reflect real application of the concept.

By connotation, work-life balance refers to a state where a person actually accomplishes a healthy balance between the demands of his paid occupation (work) and his personal life (play). Ideally, work-life balance is meant to reduce stress levels and increase job satisfaction among employee and consequently, enhancing business benefits for the employer due to higher productivity and increased retention.

Is work-life balance relevant in the Philippines where small and medium enterprises comprise more than 95 percent of business organizations? As we all know, the demarcation line between “work” and “life” among those who own or work for these enterprises is blurred. For many, doing work for their own companies is not work—it is their life.

There’s also this argument that work is very much a part of life. Finding the right job, one that is fun to do, might be the more important part in removing possible causes of stress. Or is it? The jury is still out on that one.

But there is a growing mass of people who forward the idea that it is not the absence of balance between work and life that is the issue, but the absence of meaning in what one does. For them, achieving balance is not the ideal simply because it cannot be done; there is no fulcrum that defines the distinction between work and life. Instead, they suggest that people find jobs that offer fulfillment and yes, meaning, claiming that these take away the pains from what is otherwise tedious and exhausting.

But the debate does not stop there. There are those who ask the rather uncomfortable question: “Is there really such a thing called overworked Filipino employees or is this another urban myth?” Their thesis is that most Filipino workers have it so good, that demands on worker productivity in our country is not that stringent and that many Pinoy workers are actually loafers at work. In short, the classic picture of the Filipino as an indolent Juan Tamad is true.

I am not so sold on this point of view. However, I do grant that compared to other countries, we Pinoys do know how to have fun anywhere, anytime, even at work. Heck, we do find something to laugh about in the gravest life-and-death situations. Our extended family system and the fact that household help is readily available in this part of the world help.

Nevertheless, there is no denying that no matter how much one loves what one does, no matter how much fun one is having, there is a limit to what the body can take physically. So eventually, regardless of the level of fun and fulfillment one derives out of work, the body begins to show signs of wear and tear. We need to take care of ourselves.


federalcruiser of USA said…
hi bong im a long time and frequent visitor of your blog. in one of your posts recently you mentioned writing a piece about Big Brother 2's absolute madness and we have been waiting for it. thanks!

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