Death of my daughter made me examine my work/life balance, says Pia Webb

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You recently published a self-help book, ‘Improve your own quality of life’, which aims to improve employee wellbeing and work-life balance. What motivated you to write the book?

Firstly, if it wasn´t for our first born daughter Lilly (who died during delivery in 2006), Webbs Quality of Life Model would never have been created. That made me really reflect on what life is all about, e.g. why do we live? What is quality of life? If it wasn´t for her the book would never have been written.

Secondly, in 2010 I started a newsletter called the “Monthly Challenge” in Sweden. Every month I inspired the readers to improve their own quality of life in just 5-10 minutes, by asking are you ready to take up the challenge? If so, what will your first step be?

I had a different topic every month e.g. time, focus, passion, health, positive thinking, show appreciation etc. I got great feedback from people saying how much they appreciated the newsletter and what a positive impact it had on them. I was asked by readers to write a book with all the challenges in. Since then I have developed the concept of Quality of Life further and last year I felt that I was ready to actually get the book finished.

At the base of your Q and L model there is a correlation between improved personal qualities and increased profitability of a business. Can you explain how this works?

It´s quite simple. You can just go back to yourself. If you look after yourself, both in your personal life and your professional life, you feel better about yourself. You feel empowered and start to feel in control of your own life. As a result you start to reflect on life in a different way and focus on what is important to you. For example, if you are not happy at work, you will do something about it e.g. express that you feel your strengths and driving forces could be used to better effect in another role. If you are happy at work, it will have a positive impact on your performance.

Your model also emphasises how important is for employees to assume direct responsibility of improving their quality of life. How can this be achieved?

I think it’s important for people to understand that each individual is responsible for their own life. You can´t blame someone else for how you live. If you are not satisfied with your current situation, it’s down to you to do something about it. No one else will do it for you. We all need to realise that no-one is perfect, we all have our own issues. The only difference is that some people deal with their issues and do something about it, whilst others don’t.

Webbs Quality of Life Model©s main empowering coaching tool Webbs Holistic Coaching Wheel™ has the power to transform any individual. Once you have been introduced to it you can´t blame your life on anyone else anymore.

The wheel will help you to quickly identify areas in your life that you need to work on. It´s up to you to reflect on what steps you are motivated to take to improve your own quality of life.

Webbs Holistic Coaching Wheel™ can be adapted to anyone/all walks of life and you can use as many wheels as you like. You can focus on specific areas: e.g. home (personal), work (professional), voluntary work, school (studies), job hunting, retirement, Christmas, summer holiday etc. You will then be able to simply identify your current situation and come up with actions to take to improve each source. Small steps in the right direction will have a big impact on your own quality of life.

Whilst researching for your book, did you notice any significant difference in work-life balance between men and women?

I´ve coached many CEO´s and leaders over the years. In my experience I have noticed the main difference between men and women is the motivation to deal with their issues. Looking at my clients, when most men start the coaching process, they tend to say that work is the most important aspect of their lives, however, during the process they soon come to realise that the family/their private life is the bit that they have been neglecting, e.g. spending time with their children, partner. This then becomes the focus in their lives. For some men this transformation can take place after just one 1.5 hour coaching session.

Many women come in to the coaching programme feeling stressed and drained, struggling to cope with everything that they have on their plate. The main issues tend to be they want to do too much, find it hard to say no and try to please everyone. When I start the coaching process and they complete the wheel they soon realise it is not a sustainable way of living. As a result many women become much more focused and decisive without feeling guilty.

Work-life balance is a topic which has produced an extensive amount of research. Some academics (e.g. Greenhaus and Powell) promote the idea that work and personal life should be seen as part of a whole. They also prefer using the terms “effectiveness” rather than “balance”. Do you agree with this view?

I think it´s all about how we use our time holistically. We all have the same amount of hours in the day. The only difference is how we spend them. I believe the best way to achieve a sustainable way of living is by empowering oneself.

You might ask yourself, how do you do that? From my experience and expertise, I have created the following 3 steps:

  1. Invest in your own quality of life
  2. Prioritise time to reflect
  3. Act by making a conscious decision.

It might sound simple, but believe me the simplicity is what makes it revolutionary!

A 2013 OECD report finds north-European countries at the forefront of work-life balance practices. Likewise, your book mentions ‘a Swedish way’. What do you think is at the base of their successful model? Is it purely cultural?

My views are as follows:

Firstly I would like to say, I´m not perfect, neither is any other Swede.

In Sweden the social system allows us to practise the work-life balance others might aspire to. E.g. you can spend 1.5 year at home with your children and receive 80% of your salary. We are also encouraged to share it with our partner. Most men take at least 6 months off to be with their child. Also the law states that up to the age of 8 years old the parent is allowed to work only 75%. So we get the opportunity to spend more quality time with our children. We also allow flexible hours, working from home etc. You can be at home with your sick child and still get 80% of your wage. However, many Swedes struggle finding that work-life balance anyway. You might wonder why is this? Swedes tend to be very efficient and hardworking, however, we dislike showing our weaknesses. A lot of Swedes end up having a burn-out as a result of not listening to their bodies – and that happened to me too. To put it simply, we try to do everything 100% – e.g. perfect mum, perfect career, perfect house, perfect everything else – it´s just not possible.

Swedes tend to be empowered to do their jobs well. They are informed, educated and encouraged to accept responsibility at work. They get the opportunity to learn by their mistakes, which to be fair, is the best way.

Also Swedes are known for expecting good service, and that´s the way it should be. It increases competition, which is a good thing. If we are not happy, we will let people know.

Among the barriers to improved work-life balance in UK is the fact that overtime is often a rule rather than an exception. What do you think can be done to address this?

In my view you always need to start at the top. You need to make sure you have a strong leader (people person) that sees the benefits of empowering his/her staff and is brave enough to consolidate unsuccessful businesses/products/services. Setting a clear vision is crucial and focus on how the organisation is going to get there. Your people need to know what is expected from them, clear tasks, responsibilities, goals. They should receive feedback, constructive criticism and be offered skills development. I argue that the best way to achieve increased long-term success for any organisation is to empower the people who work in it to look after themselves – both at home and at work.

It is said that people can only be productive 6 hours per day. The challenge here is to make sure the duties they do at work actually adds value to the organisation. Finding ways of working more effectively will help to reduce overtime work.

A survey on employee wellbeing mentioned holidays, leaving work at a reasonable hour and taking breaks as key strategies to improve WLB. Do you think this approach can work in the long term, or is there more that needs to be done? 

Holidays, leaving work at a reasonable hour and taking breaks will obviously have a positive effect to improve WLB. However people need to address the core issue/s that causes them to be less productive/happy as a whole. By introducing Webbs Holistic Coaching Wheel the individual can quickly identify areas which need to be worked on. The power with the wheel is that it brings out the core issue/s that the individual needs to work on. It´s then up to the person to decide whether they are ready to deal with the issue and do something about it. It´s  important the person is motivated to take action. Once they get used to working with the wheel, they will realise that this is the only personal development tool they need.

Where do you see the employee wellbeing debate going in the next few years?

I definitely believe it will be more about each individual, realising that we cannot blame our lives on anyone else. We all need to take responsibility for our own lives. If you look after yourself, you will have a positive effect on others; if you don´t, unfortunately you will have a negative effect on others.

Interview by Sergio Russo, HRreview journalist

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