The balance between work life and personal life is among the most challenging aspects of being a professional. Achievement and advancement often come with heavy workloads and long hours, and our personal lives can inevitably take a hit. Add being plugged into work at all times via email and text, and our overall health and happiness can be affected as well.
A study earlier this year by Flexjobs provided a good illustration of the work-life balance struggle.
- 30 percent of the 1,200 people surveyed reported being satisfied with work-life balance. That’s down from 45 percent three years ago.
- 37 percent say they are stressed by their work-life balance. That’s up from 29 percent in 2015.
- 86 percent report that “work conflicts with their efforts to take care of their overall health.”
Executives may feel that long hours are expected of them, both in proving their worth and in setting an example for others. But plenty of business leaders have developed their own ways of coping with this, from leaving the office at a decent hour to putting a major emphasis on family time. This Business Insider story shows some of these successful methods, from Zillow’s Spencer Rascoff, Google’s Hiroshi Lockheimer and Weebly’s Kim Jabal.
Achieving this balance can be easier said than done, of course. Here’s a look at some ways to make it a real priority.
A first step for executives may be to take a detailed look at time management: how much time is being spent at work, how efficient that time is and how much work is carrying over to their home life. In a story for Industry Week, Tim Kehl suggests keeping a time log of all work and personal matters: “This data will serve as an eye-opener, helping you understand how you are using — and where you are losing — your time.”
The next step, he writes, is taking that knowledge and using it to set priorities. “Spend some time seriously reflecting on what is most important to you, and make a list of your top priorities at work and at home,” he explains. “Then analyze your time audit by asking yourself these key questions: What do I need to start doing? Stop doing? Continue doing? Do more of? Do less of? Do differently?”
Consider the workplace benefit
Work-life balance is often a universal issue, from entry-level employees to CEOs. Those in leadership positions should understand that many people are dealing with this at one time or another — or perhaps on a constant basis. Executives that recognize these signs can help to create a better office culture, and increase employee engagement and satisfaction. In a story for Psychology Today, Shawn M. Burn writes that such efforts can create “a sustainable workforce where employees don’t become burned-out and ineffective.”
“… Although some will say that employers aren’t responsible for employees’ work-life balance, the truth is that employers that ignore employees’ work-life imbalance may experience higher rates of absenteeism and turnover as well as decreased productivity over time,” Burn writes. “It’s a fact that employees that feel well taken care of by their employer are more committed and more likely to go beyond the call of duty and support other employees. Employee work-life balance is in the long-term interest of the organization.”
Lead by example
A workplace focus on balance won’t mean much if the leadership team doesn’t follow the same advice. Executives need to practice what they preach so that there are no mixed messages for employees. That goes for office hours and after-hours communications, as Alison Davis, CEO of Davis & Company, writes for Inc.com.
“In other words, you must walk the talk,” Davis says. “For example, I used to wake up in the middle of the night and send emails. Now I wait until at least 6 a.m. (still early, I know, but at least it’s defensible). And I really really try to take time off (including weekends), even though that’s hard for me.”
Work projects and issues often linger after we walk out the door at the end of the day (whatever that hour may be). An important part of getting out of the office is letting those things go, even if it’s just for a few hours. Julie Bawden Davis features several CEOs and their methods of balance in a story for American Express’ OPEN Forum. For Gina Argento, CEO of Broadway Stages, it’s a matter of focus.
“I’ve found that you can attain work-life balance by focusing your attention wherever you are,” Argento says in the story. “If I’m at work, that’s where my attention goes. The same goes for my home life. To counter the hectic days, I make it a point to take my kids to school every single day, no matter what. The time I spend driving them is all about them. You want to be able to go home and do something you enjoy, whether it’s getting in a great workout at the gym, having game night with your kids or catching a movie with your spouse or significant other.”
Here’s something that many of us don’t think about enough: how our jobs affect our health. Long hours add up quickly, and working on nights and weekends can prevent us from decompressing from the stress. As Stacey Ferreira, CEO of Forge, puts it in a story for Inc.com: “Health is the foundation to happiness and productivity. If you don’t have a healthy mind and body, you can’t work at peak capacity.”
Ferreira writes that flexibility in our jobs can be a key element to achieving more balance. She notes the Families and Work Institute’s 2014 National Study of Employers that showed those in flexible jobs had less stress, better mental and physical health, and better sleep patterns.
“… Flexible work provides more time to focus on health as a key value,” she writes. “People can schedule doctor’s appointments and not have to worry about taking a day off of work. They can take time in the morning to work out, showing up to work later in the day when they’re more productive. They can take time off to recover from the flu and not infect everyone else in the office. Health can finally be a priority.”
Learning from experience
Regret is a difficult feeling to work through, and it can emerge when dealing with work-life issues. Missing an important personal or family moment can create significant guilt. On the other hand, that also may cause self-reflection and a new focus on making necessary changes. Laura Stampler explored this in a story for Time that featured Brad Smith, CEO of Intuit. His biggest regret earlier in his career, as Stampler writes, was “leaving his wife and newborn daughters, now 17 and 19, the day after both of them were born for work trips.”
“My daughters are the reason I do everything,” Smith says in the story. “But there are so many moments in hindsight I would have gone back and done differently.”
Smith defines two kinds of moments that might be missed because of work, Stampler writes. “Rubber” moments are ones that you can bounce back from, like a sporting event. “Crystal” moments are the bigger ones:
“… ‘Do not ever drop a crystal moment,’” like a graduation or birth of a child, he counsels. Furthermore, when Smith was named CEO, he told his daughters that not only would they remain a priority but, ‘from that moment we started Daddy Daughter Breakfasts — on Saturday I took one and on Sunday I’d take the other and we’d talk about whatever they wanted.’”
Reconsider the terminology
Those that feel a work-life balance is a constant uphill battle may need to shift their way of thinking. Even avoiding the “work-life balance” phrase may help. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, has put a different spin on it, as Jane Burnett reported in a story for Ladders, published by the Chicago Tribune. Work-life balance, Bezos says, is “a debilitating phrase because it implies there’s a strict trade-off.”
“And the reality is, if I am happy at home, I come into the office with tremendous energy,” he says. “And if I am happy at work, I come home with tremendous energy. It actually is a circle; it’s not a balance. And I think that is worth everybody paying attention to it. You never want to be that guy — and we all have a coworker who’s that person — who as soon as they come into a meeting they drain all the energy out of the room. You can just feel the energy go whoosh! You don’t want to be that guy. You want to come into the office and give everyone a kick in their step.”