Interview with Nigel Marsh – Best Selling Author and CEO *With hilarious and insightful video*
I’ve always been a fan of the TED speeches but when I came across Nigel Marsh’s speech on work/life balance it really struck a chord. Nigel’s video is both funny and insightful and I knew immediately that I needed to interview him and get more of his excellent perspective on getting the most out of work and life. After talking with him I was happy to find he is a fantastic guy and very mindful of the problems of the modern business world. He has also led a very interesting life.
Nigel has done everything from stand-up comedian to CEO at Young and Rubicam in Australia and has been a distinguished leader of several of the world’s best known companies. He is the author of several books including the bestselling Fat,Forty,Fired: One Man’s Frank,Funny,and Inspiring Account of Losing His Job and Finding His Life. That’s not all. Nigel is a founder of the global environmental initiative Earth Hour and is a highly sought-after speaker giving many incredible speeches including the highly lauded TEDx Sydney speech shown below.
In his Ted 2010 speech he talks about four interesting observations he has made on work/life balance. First check out his speech and then read his interview with us below:
Interview with Nigel Marsh
Q. What is work-life balance? How can you tell if your life is balanced and what metric do you use? How often should you be doing what you want to do versus what you need to do to survive? What timeframe should we use to measure this?
A. I don’t like the phrase ‘work-life balance’ as it tends to be misleading. However it’s the one we’ve got so we’re stuck with it. For me having balance means you’re engaged in all the various areas (physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual) that make up a rounded human life not just one or two of them. It’s not always realistic to do this on a daily basis but I find an honest appraisal once a month quickly reveals if I’m out of balance and need to take action.
Q. You’ve spent the past several years trying to achieve more life balance and be a better person. What areas still give you trouble? How do you achieve this in your day to day life with all that you need to accomplish?
A. I find it constantly challenging. There’s a Buddhist phrase that springs to mind “Before enlightenment – chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment? – chop wood, carry water”. Like with every other area of life it takes constant effort not to fall back into old bad habits.
Q. What is the most surprising thing you have learned in the past few years focusing on life balance and speaking to others on this topic?
A. How many people struggle with this issue. When I had my mid-life crisis I thought I was alone. Since the books’ success I’ve had literally thousands of email and letters from men and women telling me they feel exactly the same way and are craving a more balanced and meaningful life.
Q. How would you go about living your advice as a leader of a company? How do you promote these things in a company and what changes do you actually see in a company after promoting them?
A. People pick up on the example you set. They take their clues from what you do, not what you say. If they see you genuinely valuing your own family time and life outside work they feel more comfortable in doing the same. I have found if you treat people with respect in 99% of cases they will repay you with appropriate behaviour. In my first CEO role I gave everyone 2 ‘Donna Days’ a year. (A donna is the Aussie word for a duvet/ bedcover). These were days where if when they woke up they couldn’t be bothered coming to work they simply called their boss and said I’m taking a donna day. It was enormously appreciated and not once was it abused. Treating people as human souls with lives beyond the workplace, as opposed to mere economic units of production, results in a more meaningfully engaged workforce.
Q. What makes you personally successful in business? How were you able to become a corporate leader and turn companies into success stories?
A. I’ve been lucky to work with some amazing partners. I don’t believe in great individuals I believe in great groups.
Q. Is it a problem to work long hours if you enjoy what you are doing?
A. Not at all. If you decide that’s how you want to live your life that’s fine. Obviously you have to check these long hours aren’t putting an unfair burden on other partners and family members. Also that you aren’t going to end up like so many of the people who write to me saying they had a successful career but are living an old age full of regret.
Q. You’ve said: “Certain job and career choices are fundamentally incompatible with being meaningfully engaged on a day to day basis with a young family.” If someone is in one of these careers and is unhappy about it, what can they do? How do they find time to be engaged with family and life and still make enough money to live?
A. If you are in one of those roles and you want to be engaged with your family on a day to day basis then the honest answer is you are in the wrong job! There’s nothing wrong with putting in regular 14 hour days to get to the top of the corporate tree but it is slightly unrealistic to imagine this is going to result in a happy families scenario.
It’s about choices and priorities. Maybe you lower your career goals. Maybe you take a year off to reconnect with your loved ones. Maybe you lower your ‘family goals’ and decide for this critical time in your career you are happy for your partner to bring up the kids whilst you concentrate on your career. I don’t believe there is any one correct answer. I do feel however that people should put serious thought into the issue so they don’t unwittingly slide into a lifestyle they bitterly regret later. Decide not slide is my motto.
Q. One of the things you mentioned is that everyone should decide what they want in life and make a conscious decision to work toward that. Can companies help with this? For example should companies allow their employees to decide individually how many hours per month they would like to work and then pay them accordingly? Is it possible to open up a field that generally requires long hours to employees who would rather split the workload and pay with another person?
A. Companies can help but not all companies want to. It’s clear some companies don’t really care for their staff whilst others do. Obviously I’m a fan of the latter group! It’s worth being flexible with work practices and trying any option that might help. However it’s important to always remember the proper real world context. Companies exist to make a sustainable profit not to enhance your home life. There are two sides to the equation and both need to be respected. An unprofitable company that goes out of business doesn’t help anyone in the long term.
Q. Let’s discuss people who cannot afford to take time off and must work as many hours as they are offered to make money to live. Is work life balance only for the rich in this point in history? Can that ever change? Can a factory worker or a migrant farm worker take stock of their life and decide they want to spend more time with their family and do so? Can they make good choices that would improve their work-lives?
A. I’m one of life’s optimists and like to think that every situation, however bleak, can be improved. I believe small changes can have huge consequences. But having said that I think it is fundamentally dishonest to promise short cuts and easy answers in every situation. Life is hard and unfair. In some situations the issue of work-life balance is, rightly, the last thing on a families mind as they are desperately struggling to survive.
Q. If you could tell a person just one thing that would help them be successful in all areas of life, what would it be?
A. Never to forget the importance of other people. Contrary to the media’s obsession with heros and celebrities – in this life you can’t do it alone.
Q. What are you working on now? What is your next project?
A. I’ve just published my second book ‘Overworked and Underlaid’ and am now writing my third.
Q. Do you plan to ever return to full time work in a traditional role at a company?
A. Its more than likely given I’ve got four young kids and writing pays so poorly. However no plans just yet.
Find out more about Nigel by checking out his website here.