If a former CIA analyst, devoted to university teaching, manages to combine her promotion to Secretary of State with her personal life in which she takes care of a husband and three children in the middle of their adolescence… why shouldn’t the rest of the world succeed? OK, the story has a Hollywood feel to it, but ‘Madam Secretary’, currently on air on Movistar +, can provide excellent lessons about Work-Life Balance.
We can find useful advice that we can apply at work to leverage both worlds in harmony, while witnessing how she attends the needs of her teenage children without abandoning the obligations of such a slave-like position.
The main character either deals with teachers at school and limiting the use of screens at home, or with issues such as resolving a diplomatic crisis with China or aborting a strike by the agricultural unions. And with hardly making any mess of herself, or showing up at work with a stain on a poorly washed shirt.
Not-so-childish life lessons
Granted, this is not the most realistic example from which to draw conclusions for everyday life, but isn’t it true that we have been passing on the life lessons of ‘The Lion King’, ‘Finding Nemo’ or ‘Dumbo’ from generation to generation for decades? Does Disney have more credibility than CBS or Netflix? You don’t need to answer yet, lest the child in you be shattered. Because, although it may be uncomfortable to admit it now, few people have ever resisted the advice of Simba’s ‘Hakuna matata’, Dory’s courage to step out of her comfort zone, or the bravery of the big-eared little elephant’s effort. Perfectly applicable advice for the labour world.
Karoshi, or how fiction teaches us the balance between personal and professional life
More radical and direct is the Japanese proposal of Watashi, Teiji of Kaerimasu, translated as ‘I will not work overtime, period!’ A show which tells, without preambles or artifices, the story of the leading role and his determination to break down the Japanese culture of presenteeism and leave the office when the hands of the clock mark the end of the working day at 6 pm sharp in order to spend more time with the young woman he is in love with.
The struggle for love against all odds has more adaptations for cinema and television other than initiation trips (‘Easy Rider’, ‘Thelma and Louise’…) or Icarus-like stories of ascent to heaven and descent to hell (‘Raging Bull’, ‘Boardwalk Empire’…). But in this case, it includes a conscientious side full of practical advice for work as a vaccine against a subject that is tragically rooted in Japanese culture, and that is one of the main barriers to be demolished by Work-Life Balance: Death by Karoshi, due to overworking. According to the National Council for the Defence of Karoshi Victims, this disease has claimed 10,000 victims a year, a figure very similar to that of traffic accident victims.
Reverse learning: what to avoid
In Spain, or in Europe, didactic or social awareness shows have hardly any place, and they’re certainly stranger to the success of audiences. But if we change the perspective of purpose, emphasizing what not to do, there are choices. Starting with ‘The Office‘, which had a prequel in the UK before its success in the US.
Taking advantage of the realism that comes from being filmed as a mockumentary, ‘The Office’ explores to the point of shame everyday aspects of an office such as the loneliness of misfits, the acceptance of newcomers, the selfishness of competitiveness, the tyranny of area managers and the fear of management. Also viciousness on third parties which, due to their hilarious exaggerated nature, allow us to extract a good handful of reverse learnings on how not to act that could well make up the ten commandments of good practice and advice for any company:
- There is a right time for everything and each person moves at his or her own pace, so by respecting this, the weight of work and personal life is better balanced.
- The person who doesn’t take risks is not wrong, but he is not right either. And many solutions to our problems can come from within ourselves.
- Laughter and fun soften everything by banishing the bad vibrations that make us hate work and encourage procrastination.
- Work is not a prison sentence where happiness is lost and sadness is dragged into our home.
- Warming up the chair by arriving first and leaving last will not make you inherit the company.
The audacity of screenwriters to take everything to histrionics highlights everything negative that we see in others and that we are so slow to recognise in ourselves. Even the most absurd sentences contain a little lesson like this one about dealing with subordinates: “Do I prefer to be feared or loved? Easy. Both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me“.