The Work-Life Balance Myth Could Be Closer Than You Think

As younger leaders enter senior management ranks, a more enlightened leadership style and culture is likely to evolve.  That culture will encourage workers to be present in all aspects of their lives so that they won’t have to give up one to achieve the other.     
As younger leaders enter senior management ranks, a more enlightened leadership style and culture is likely to evolve.  That culture will encourage workers to be present in all aspects of their lives so that they won’t have to give up one to achieve the other.     

There is a lot of talk about how the so-called “Gig Economy” may alter the values of senior executives.  That could mean that there will be greater acceptance of employees’ desires to achieve some balance in their lives.  Or, senior leaders may continue to view “face time” as the single most critical measure of employees’ commitment.

The workplace used to see physical presence as the ultimate sign of employee loyalty.  If managers walked out their offices and didn’t see you, there was a question about whether you were working hard enough.  Unfortunately, many careers were stalled because family demands meant that these talented workers couldn’t beat the boss into the office in the morning or be the last person to leave at night.

The good news is there are small, but encouraging, signs that the leadership culture may be shifting.  This shift may enable employees to finally achieve the elusive balance between their work and personal lives.

Baby-boomers now recognize that they paid a huge price for their professional success in the form of constant travel, fractured marriages, and being a “no-show” for many important events and milestones in their children’s lives. They devoted year-after-year of 14-hour days to their work.  They believed in the implied “contract” between the employer and the executive.  Rewards were commensurate with the amount of time put in on the job.

When the recession of 2008 hit, that contract was irrevocably broken.  Many hard-working executives lost their jobs despite the backbreaking work and time commitment they devoted to their companies.  Today’s young leaders watched their parents suffer emotional and financial losses from which some never recovered.

They now ask, “What good did it do my parents to make all of those sacrifices?” They don’t want to look back at their lives and repeat the same mistakes.  As a result, many are no longer willing to pay the same price. It is the companies that embrace the work-life balance that will win the fight for competent employees.

There are signs that as younger leaders enter senior management ranks, that a more enlightened leadership style and culture might evolve.  That culture will encourage workers to be present in all aspects of their lives so that they won’t have to give up one to achieve the other.

Today’s C-Suite leaders recognize that they can actually create a positive organizational culture that would be built upon authentic concern and understanding that personal lives impact work lives and vice versa. As the “war for talent” escalates, an empathetic, human-centered approach to employee relations will be key to attracting and retaining top talent.

To be sure, we have a long way to go. Typically, men haven’t been expected to take on the primary responsibilities of their immediate and extended families because of the demands of their executive roles. Unfairly, the same hasn’t been true for women – even those holding similar high paying jobs. They have been expected to manage their executive roles and handle the family responsibilities without missing a beat.

The combined pressures of carving out time for work and a personal life are enormous.    Emerging leaders — both men and women – end up feeling that they aren’t successful in either area of their lives. When you give everything to work, you feel guilty about your family; when you give it to your family, you feel guilty about work.

If we have learned anything, it is that successful companies are built and led by talented men and women.  Both partners in a marriage are now equally invested in doing what is necessary to achieve success in their professional and personal lives.  Companies that recognize this shift, and create and align employment policies accordingly, will attract the best and the brightest, retain them longer, and have a workforce filled with productive and committed employees.

Read more: How Technology Can Help Drive Corporate Culture

Gail Meneley
Hundreds of high profile executives in America have chosen Gail as their adviser and coach to advance their work and careers. They rely on Gail’s “straight talk” to help them think through their most important leadership and career decisions. As a result, their personal and organizational goals are reached sooner and with greater impact. Gail’s clients include Allstate, Johnson & Johnson, Heller Financial, American Red Cross, McDonald’s, Baxter, Fort James, Bristol Meyers, Fleming, Galileo, Anthem Health, GE, Motorola, Quaker, CNA, R.R. Donnelley, Anheuser Busch, and Sears.