Former interior minister Gideon Sa'ar..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Gideon Sa’ar’s surprising decision to step down from front-line politics raises a topic rarely discussed in Israel: the importance of a healthy work-life balance.
Gone are the days when then-prime minister Levi Eshkol could quip, on being presented with a proposal to move to a five-day work week: “First, let’s see Israelis working twice a week, then we shall shift to three days, four days, and from there to five days.”
In fact, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), people in Israel work 1,910 hours a year, more than the OECD average of 1,765 hours, or almost an extra month’s worth of work. And we’re not just talking about a small number of Israeli workaholics skewing the average: the OECD found that close to 19 percent of Israeli employees work very long hours, one of the highest in the OECD, where the average is 9%.
Uber-politicians like Sa’ar really do put in the hours, both at the office and then in the never-ending round of nightly shoulder-slapping social events with local political activists which helped propel him to the top of the Likud primaries list and an important ministerial portfolio. If we take Sa’ar at his word, and for the moment there is no known reason why we should not, he has decided to throw away all his hard work of the past two decades in order to be there when his nine-and-a-half-monthold son David takes his first few steps.
No one gets to the position Sa’ar reached without devoting most of their waking hours to their career, which inevitably comes at the expense of their family.
With the experience of two grown daughters from a previous marriage behind him, Sa’ar seems determined not to be an absent father this time around and so has taken this radical step of jumping off the political merry-go-round.
With his talents and valuable connections, Sa’ar knows he does not have to worry about future employment opportunities. Other people building a career and a family simultaneously do not have the luxury of being able to take what Sa’ar has called a “time out,” and are left trying to reconcile the competing needs of the workplace and home.
For white-collar professionals modern technology has proved a double-edged sword in this struggle.
On the one hand, it has been a boon for those who want to work from home in order to better juggle the demands of making a living and caring for their family. Ubiquitous fast Internet connections and the rapid development of mobile communications technology has meant that working from home often proves more productive than being in the office, particularly in terms of time spent actually working as opposed to chatting with colleagues at the next desk or nearby office. In many professions, working remotely also promotes a culture of flexible hours – providing the work is completed by the required deadline, it does not actually matter whether it was finished in “regular office hours,” in the middle of the night or at crack of dawn.
At the same time, being always connected also means there is no escape from the demands of the office: work emails still arrive on your mobile phone even if you have switched off for the day and it requires great strength of will to ignore that urgent email from your boss. The constant pinging of the email inbox has wrecked many a family holiday.
Some corporations are trying to address this challenge.
The Daimler car company, for example, has set a holiday email policy in which staff can choose to set their email to automatically delete incoming mail while they are away, alerting the sender as to who they should contact instead. Furthermore, Daimler’s official Life-Balance program states that “nobody is expected to be available all the time.”
Volkswagen, meanwhile, as far back as 2011 introduced a policy of not sending emails outside of set office times. But such policies do not suit everyone or every profession, and setting boundaries is becoming more and more difficult in today’s fastpaced professional world. Ultimately, it is for the individual to decide where they draw line between work and their personal or family life.
Gideon Sa’ar has taken a far-reaching decision about where his priorities lie; others might wish to be able to emulate him but lack the financial means to do so.
The coming days of an extended Rosh Hashana break, which for most of us is spent around family, provides an ideal opportunity for a re-assessment of our own priorities and how we can best adjust our lifestyle to fit them. When he looks back over his political career, Sa’ar can take pride in having raised this important issue and having set a striking personal example.The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.