BLOG: How good are your juggling skills?

During my busy week back at work after the Easter break I was put in mind of the poignant, 30 second speech that former CEO of Coca-Cola, Bryon Dyson gave a few years ago. "Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air..."

"You name them – Work, FamilyHealthFriends and Spirit and you’re keeping all of these in the air.

You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls – Family, Health, Friends and Spirit – are made of glass. If you drop one of these; they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for it.

Work efficiently during office hours and leave on time. Give the required time to your family, friends and have proper rest. Value has a value only if its value is valued.”

The speech was concise, consistent and clear in its message. It got me thinking about how many of us are truly applying this kind of logic to our working lives. I would argue not enough. Let’s look at the evidence...

According to research from the TUC, the number of Brits working more than 48 hours a week has gone up by 350,000 over the past ten years. In Europe the average is just over 40 hours. More recent research in the BMJ also shows working longer hours increases the risk of drinking dangerous amounts of alcohol which, leads to health problems.  Uh oh looks like we might be dropping one of those balls. Awh well at least it’ll bounce.

Mobile phone providers also now claim we now spend more time on or looking at our phone than we do with our partners. 2 hours versus just 97 minutes on daily basis. And with parents spending less than 8 hours a week with children the fate of the family glass ball doesn’t look too good.

I would also argue that many of us have now replaced real friendships with virtual ones; as a nation we spend 62m hours a day on social media. Prepare for impact friends ball.

Finally census data shows that religion or at least the numbers of people declaring a faith is in decline. Maybe a higher power might save our glass ball of spirit?

So evidence would also suggest too few of us have good juggling skills and are at risk of scuffing, damaging or even worse, shattering our precious glass balls.

How might we remedy this?

Dyson’s instructions were simple... work efficiently, spend time with friends and family and get rest. Simple right?  

If it was, surely we wouldn’t be known in the UK as having a ‘long-hours’ culture, declining health and struggling with the burden of a number of social issues. What can we do then to work smarter not longer or harder? How can we help employees invest in their health, relationships and overall well being?

Work efficiently

One of the programmes we were involved in took the straight forward step of asking its employees for the answers. The ideas that came back included trying 40-minute meetings rather than one hour meetings, writing one-page briefings or picking up the phone rather than sending an email. Not rocket science.

Spend time with friends and family

Can we go beyond offering a childcare voucher scheme or giving our nearest and dearest discounts or ‘mates rates’ on the products or services employers provide and truly give something of value back to employees. Netflix and Hubspot have modeled the unlimited holidays and offer a holiday reimbursement for food, accommodation, entertainment and travel. Can you imagine taking your family and friends away courtesy of ‘the company’?

Get rest

This is perhaps the instruction from Dyson that most clearly points to the common currency of value here. Time! However, duvet days and paid sabbaticals are on the increase maybe we’re getting better at keeping all the balls in the air after all…



By Sharon Kemp

Business Development Director at Corporate Culture/How on Earth