For some people, work-life balance is simple, for others it’s more complicated, and experience shows that most people at the C-level tend to fall into the latter category. In this article, we’ll look at some of the reasons why and overview potential solutions.
Work-life balance, the term is almost a cliché. Tossed around by employers, employees and consultants, I wonder if people ever stop to think about what it really means. For a start, it depends on your definition of work.
In a recent interview, English comedian and musician Bill Bailey when asked whether he was he a workaholic, replied that his wife would agree with that description, but that he preferred to think of himself as enthusiastic about what he does. He then described furtively taking voice and written notes at any time, wherever he was and whatever he was doing.
From this it seems apparent that Bill doesn’t regard work as a separate occupation to the rest of his life. In a sense, he is then always working, the boundaries between work and life have become blurred to the point where the two roles may have become homogenous. For Bill, I imagine that work life balance is extremely granular, by that I mean that it happens in small chunks of time, perhaps throughout the day.
Bill’s situation may work for someone whose role as an entertainer doesn’t demand traditional working hours, a team role or time structures. The concept of ‘always being at work’ can have the flipside of ‘always doing things other than work’, together they can combine to create a balance of sorts. Sadly, this option is not available to most of us, and probably wouldn’t be sustainable if it was.
At the C-level, work and not-work (aka ‘life’) tend to be clearly defined. The responsibilities of leading a team in a corporate environment provide a clear distinction to other activities such as spending time with family and friends or recreational activities. Boundaries can be blurred when one ‘takes work home’ and is mentally, if not physically at work. This is typical of a C-level role and the solution, developing the ability to switch off is not always as easy as it sounds.
Fortunately, there are techniques that can be learned to help make the transition from work to life. The first step in most of them is developing an awareness of which state you are in – surprisingly many people are not aware until prompted, and even then, some have difficulty in separating the two.
Having identified the two states of work and life – and learnt some basic techniques to separate them, the next question becomes ‘what is the optimum work life balance?’
The answers to that question depend on a range of factors, and it’s seldom half and half.
If you are working at the C-level, you’re typically a motivated, driven person who puts significant effort and energy into everything you do, both at work and in the rest of your life. This can be draining.
All too often I see people putting all their energy into their work, leaving little for other aspects of their lives. Then after recognising that, to compensate they over-commit to the non-work aspects of their lives.
This situation is what I call the C-level C-saw. When energy committed to work is up, it’s down for family friends and other activities – and vice-versa. if you remember playing on a see saw as a child, you’ll probably also remember how difficult it was to balance, teetering with both riders’ feet off the ground.
If you’re reading this and you find yourself in the Bill Bailey camp, where work and life integrate seamlessly (caveat: for the sake of this discussion and from what he said in the interview, I am assuming this is the case, although it may not be) congratulations, many will envy you.
However, if you’re like most at the C-level, your task is to optimise the enjoyment you get from both your work and your other activities and that can be difficult, though not impossible if you use some proven techniques to realise, assess and address your situation.
Topics like work life balance are just some of the areas we cover in our executive coaching programs, and they are informed by the findings of some of the world’s leading management and workplace analysts.
If you would like to discuss how you or your company could benefit from professional executive coaching, please drop me a line and let’s talk.