How much pay would you give up to achieve a more balanced life? That’s the question that LifeSearch recently put to around 2000 adults – and the answer was highly revealing.
Most of us would be theoretically happy to sacrifice some of our pay if it made us happier, and around half of us would happily give up a 5 – 10 per cent chunk of our salary. That’s equivalent to £2000 if you consider the average UK salary of £25,417.
So what’s going on? Do we hate our jobs and want to spend less time doing them? Or do we increasingly enjoy our life outside of work, and want to spend more time cultivating it?
Let’s look at the glass-half-empty assessment. This year’s Health, Wealth and Happiness report found 44 per cent workers feel like they work too hard – 10 per cent higher than last year, when Lifesearch last surveyed employees. Millennials report the highest levels of working stress, at 46 per cent, compared to just 4 per cent of baby-boomers.
It’s understandable that millennials feel more dissatisfied with their work/life balance. They have less money coming in than older employees but are likely to be working just as hard (if not harder). Young people are bound to resent menial or starter jobs that bring lots of responsibility without much reward. And when these wages barely cover rental costs, let alone help us save for our own home, it’s easy to see why young people question the point of it all.
The defining problem of our generation is the difficult trade-off between short-term opportunity and long-term acquisition. Enjoy the moment or work and save hard for tomorrow? For many young people, it is a case of either/or. The cost of home ownership today is so eye-watering that many young people believe the effort and sacrifices involved ain't worth it. So we focus on the here and now, largely because we must, and this naturally influences our approach to work. We're not obsessing about promotions, fancy job titles or even higher pay. We’d rather work to suit our lifestyles. We just need enough money to pay for the basics and enjoy some of the freedom (largely created by the internet) that wasn’t available to our parents, even if it’s something of a consolation prize.
But looking at the glass as half-full, this research shows a mini-revolution is afoot. We’re questioning why we do things more than ever. Yes, the bleak economic backdrop has provided a rude awakening. But the internet also offers us alternative ways to see the world and our place in it.
For some, working hard brought its own sense of purpose, but for many others, it has been a gruelling means to a dispiriting end – the constant acquisition of assets and products. We're FINALLY starting to grasp that this won't make us happy.
We increasingly understand that more work and more pay won’t fundamentally meet our emotional needs. Only family and friends - plus a well-rounded life full of interests - can do that.
The way we view work is changing profoundly. My now-retired dad once said he would happily do his job for nothing. As a hard-working journalist who documented consumers’ bad experiences (and got the hairdryer treatment from companies, lawyers and even Fred Goodwin at one point), this statement baffled me at the time. Now I get it – he was helping people, often at their lowest ebb. Research consistently shows that humans thrive on having a sense of purpose. But his work wasn’t his life. He has always been there for me, whenever I want or need him (and sometimes when I don't!) Family is the centre of his world, and it always has been.
Work can no longer be the long, arduous chore that pays for shiny things that we take for granted after a few months. It can no longer be a pointless exercise in filling up the hours we have until we die. It has to be constructive, civilised and contributing meaningfully to a much greater whole. And it doesn’t matter if we run a FTSE 100 company or clean toilets. It’s about how we approach everything we do in our lives, with a conscientious attitude and a desire to be useful and kind.
The Health, Wealth and Happiness report shows what we really value in life but how little we protect it. More than half the UK (57 per cent) have no life insurance, a figure that’s markedly higher among younger people.
We often forget the original meaning of the word “protection” in the financial industry. At its simplest level, it’s about “protecting” the things – or rather the people – you love. It’s about using the money you have to take care of the big things: making sure you and your loved ones will be okay, whatever happens. And the concept of protection is at the heart of this whole issue. People increasingly grasp the need to protect their spare time, their family lives, their sense of peace and well-being. The industry needs to do a better job of connecting with that desire, and help people understand that putting their money towards securing themselves is the best possible investment they could make, whatever job they do and however much they earn.
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