A playful approach to work-life balance

As titles go, it wasn’t promising: this hour-long session was originally entitled “Detachment”.

Happily the organiser – a senior in-house lawyer at Google – asked if we could jazz it up, to draw in more attendees.

Together, we came up with the title you see (above), and the room was full. In fact, 40 people wanted to come along – more than originally planned – and Google had to find a new room.

New title, new room… and for me a chance to do something new: talk around mental health without going into my own difficulties.

I don’t think I even mentioned them.

Instead, I gave a quick overview of the kinds of things that we tend to neglect when life gets busy, then invited participants to get up and position themselves at various places around the room, depending on whether they were dealing “well” or “badly” with:

  1. exercise,
  2. diet, and
  3. seeing close friends and family regularly

If that’s not clear: individuals stood at one end of the room if felt they were ready to take part in the Olympic Games; if they stood at the other end of the room, they felt utterly out of shape.

Most stood somewhere in between.

I asked a few individuals to explain to everyone else why they stood where they did, and even just doing that, as a warm-up, gave the group plenty to think about.

As I’d hoped, inviting people to move around helped to create a feeling of high-energy that only increased as I introduced further exercises and activities.

These later exercises were designed to help individuals see that in all situations we do have agency – we’re never entirely victims of circumstance, and other people’s beastliness. There was a lot of laughter.

The hour flew past.

I was knackered afterwards, because it takes a lot of vim to energise a room full of 40-odd people in the afternoon.

But it was also fun, and I felt I’d done a good job.

The next day, I got this message from the head of department:

Thank you so much John-Paul for your fantastic, fun and playful hour on work life balance yesterday. It was a pleasure to meet you. I really enjoyed the improv exercises. What I took away from the session is how much I enjoy being playful and that I should be incorporating into my work much more often. You don’t have to be serious to be a lawyer 🙂

Bianca Chouls, Google

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