The Struggle of Work-Life Balance

Senior leaders in the business world are very busy, so much so that their schedules are often full and spill over into their personal lives. Working until the evening whether in the office or at home is a feature not a bug of senior leadership. But why is achieving work-life balance such a difficult task for them, and what are the implications if they fail to strike a balance?

A study by the Harvard Business Review highlights that due to their elevated roles, senior leaders face “always-on” expectations.1 In our connected world, they are frequently expected to be available round-the-clock, leading to blurred boundaries between work and personal time. What happens is that leaders understandably become overwhelmed, exhausted, and eventually burned out. We all need a break.

Can being passionate be a bad thing? Research indicates that individuals at higher organizational levels are more intrinsically motivated and passionate about their work.2 This drives these leaders to perform but, sadly, they don’t pay attention to how much work they do, and it has a negative effect on their personal lives.

Not addressing work-life imbalance has serious implications. Studies have shown that prolonged work-life imbalance can lead to various health issues, ranging from cardiovascular diseases to mental health disorders.3 Also, burnout among senior leaders can result in reduced decision-making abilities and creativity, which can have detrimental effects on organizational performance.4

So where do I come in? I try to remind leaders that without them, there is no business. They set the tone and model behaviour that their employees adopt either consciously or subconsciously. If they are seen constantly burning the midnight oil and looking haggard, other employees will get the idea that that is what it takes to move up in the organization and they will do the same.

So, how to address work-life balance, then? This is a very personal issue and I work with leaders on a one-on-one basis first to define what work-life balance means for them. Then we explore trade-offs because if you want more free time, it usually means less money and are you willing to accept that? Ultimately, I want leaders to be empowered to make their own choices and not choose what their boss, family, or even society wants for them. We are the happiest when we choose for ourselves.

  1.  Harvard Business Review. (2016). “The ‘Always-On’ Executive’s Challenge.” 
  2.  Grant, A.M., & Schwartz, B. (2011). Too much of a good thing: The challenge and opportunity of the inverted U. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6(1), 61-76. 
  3.  Chandola, T., Brunner, E., & Marmot, M. (2006). Chronic stress at work and the metabolic syndrome: prospective study. British Medical Journal, 332(7540), 521-525. 
  4.  Maslach, C., & Leiter, M.P. (2008). Early predictors of job burnout and engagement. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93(3), 498.


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