Tuesday, 26 September 2023 09:53 GMT

'It's not work-life balance, it's work-work balance' Politicians tell us what it's like to be an MP

Author: Ann Dadich

(MENAFN- The Conversation)

We are currently watching candidates battle night and day to win a spot in federal parliament. Many put their lives on hold trying to become an MP.

What is it like when they get there?

In recent years, Australian politicians have been under immense pressure, responding to COVID-19, floods, fires and international war. Yet, research repeatedly shows Australians' trust of political leaders is at an all-time low. This is not helped by the constant scandals, power struggles, as well as alleged cases of bullying and corruption.

Read more: 'This worked much better than I thought.' Why you need to watch out for strategic lies in the federal election

We recently interviewed politicians about their experiences, providing insight into the personal challenges of being a politician, including the loneliness and limited control over workloads. This is not to suggest we give politicians an easy ride (or excuse corruption), but to better understand some of the demands of a job they do on behalf of us all.

Our study

As part of research into what it's like to lead during a crisis, we spoke with 13 Australian politicians between March and December 2021.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison plays lawn bowls at a retirement village in Caboolture on day 11 of the federal election campaign. Mick Tsikas/AAP

They included federal and state MPs and ministers, as well as mayors of local government.

Interviewees came from right across the political spectrum, but for ethical reasons, participants are not named.

The most challenging role

The politicians we spoke to described leadership as“very difficult” and a“responsibility”. It naturally also comes with high levels of scrutiny and criticism.

One interviewee noted:

Another told us:

Interviewees said serving the public was their primary objective, but they were well aware that their motives were questioned by constituents and the broader public.

A lonely job

Some politicians talked about feeling isolated. They were unsure whom to trust, whom to confide in, and whom to involve in key decisions. As one former premier observed:

Federal politicians also spoke of physical isolation when in Canberra – away not just from constituents and families, but their colleagues.

Bringing stress home

It is not uncommon for politicians to speak publicly about the impact politics has on their personal lives. For many, time away from family is what leads them to eventually leave office .

Labor leader Anthony Albanese greets a dog at a retirement village in Nowra on day 11 of the campaign. Lukas Coch/AAP

Our interviewees also spoke about this problem – as well as the issue of bringing work stress home to their loved ones.

Maintaining any sort of work-life balance was near-impossible.

Another interviewee - a federal politician - spoke of how they don't have“control” of their days or weeks.

Constantly available

Political journalist Katharine Murphy has previously written about the“urelenting” demands of political life, noting,“the environment parliamentarians work in is a pressure cooker”.

The incessant nature of the media cycle, coupled with the personal nature of social media and mobile phones, means politicians can never escape their work. One interviewee told us:

This not only subjected them to constant requests, but also to anger and abuse, as other public figures - such as high-profile journalists – have also spoken about. As one MP told us:

Who wins if politicians are overworked?

The politicians we interviewed seem to be devoted to their work and keen to do good for the community. They were not seeking an easy ride from the public, the media, or their opponents. Indeed, we need tough scrutiny of our political leaders for very good reasons.

Politicians told us about not having holidays or weekends, due to work demands. Dean Lewins/AAP

But a political career also needs to be sustainable.

As a community, we need more understanding of the pressures and demands of being a politician, and a serious examination of how our political system functions on a daily basis.

As one interviewee told us:

If our politicians are less stressed and less exhausted, surely they will make better decisions and be better representatives.

The Conversation


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