5 CEO Work-Life Balance Tips From Prominent CEOs
By Fast Company Executive Board
There is no single way to attain an adequate work and family balance. For some CEOs and leaders, the balance in their lives came from lessons they learned from experience and ensuing regrets. For others, balance results from commitments they’ve made to prioritize family over their work.
Yet, plenty of CEOs continue to seek and learn new ways for balancing work with family. This may be because the United States is what a 2019 Boston College Center for Work & Family study deemed as an “outlier in government-mandated support for work and family challenges.” The study notes that the United States is the only developed country globally that fails to offer a national policy allowing employees to have 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Despite that and other challenges, some top CEOs do manage to find the common ground in balancing work with family. Read on to learn what five top business leaders have to say about work-life balance, their experiences, and how to balance work and family.
Take Time for Family And Encourage Employees To Do the Same
Timothy Allen, CEO, Care.com
Sometimes it’s only the time you don’t choose to spend with your family that can haunt you. Just ask Timothy Allen, CEO, Care.com. Allen regrets finishing a business call with his executive teams as he ran through the hospital doors as his twin sons were being born, he writes in an article for Harvard Business Review.
Instead of taking the generous, long, paid paternity leave his then-employer offered, he only took advantage of using one week. What’s worse is he spread those seven days out over the course of a few weeks, working all the while. As a CEO, he felt the self-imposed weight of what he perceived as hundreds of people who counted on him at work.
“Business doesn’t stop, so neither can I,” he recalls telling himself at the time. “I wish I could take that call back.”
This attitude is a common problem for senior leaders and managers, Allen claims. As proof, he cites the aforementioned Boston College Center for Work and Family study on the impact of expanded paid parental leave and its effect on work and family. The study states that 55% of men stated they didn’t feel very supported by their senior management for deciding to take paternity leave.
Allen says that along with taking a short amount of his allotted paternity leave, he was also more focused on business than his family when he was on leave. “I was letting my sons down as their dad and my partner down as a co-parent. And, through my example as a leader, I was letting down the other parents at my company,” he explains.
It takes leaders to set the right example for employees by allowing themselves to show vulnerability, empathy, and honesty about their lives as parents to encourage other dads in the company to do the same.
Paid leave, backup care, and flexible work hours should be enjoyed by leaders and their employees. Allen advises organizational leaders to use family leave benefits, especially paternity leave, to encourage employees to use them too.
Don’t Trade Family Commitments for Work
Mike Spears, Managing Principal, Lee & Associates
Mike Spears, SIOR, CCIM has conducted more than $1.5 billion in business over his 22-year career with Lee & Associates, Houston, which specializes in industrial, land, and investment brokerage.
Spears, the father of two and managing principal at his company, admits that while it has been difficult to maintain a good work-life balance during his real estate career, keeping commitments made to family continues to be the most important aspect in achieving it.
“I don’t shy away from family commitments because work is calling,” Spears continues in an article about being a CEO trying to balance work with family. Today, he understands the importance of being truly present with family, intentionally turning off work when he’s home with family or on vacation. Work, he says, will still be there when he returns.
Juggling it all can be difficult, he says. Understanding that the aim for success is typically on providing for a family to give them things they wouldn’t otherwise have, can help leaders gain a sense of focus, says Spears.
“Unlike money, time is a finite resource which you will never get back. Make sure that you spend that time in a quality manner.”
Consider All of Your Roles and Ration Time for Each
Thasunda Brown Duckett, CEO, President, TIAA
What is work-life balance? It’s a lie, according to Thasunda Brown Duckett. Duckett made that remark at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women’s Summit in 2021. She took control of managing Teachers Insurance Annuity Association (TIAA) in early 2021, ranking 10th on the list of Fortune’s 2021 Most Powerful Women later that year. Duckett manages over $1 trillion of TIAA assets
Duckett followed her statement about work-life balance being a life with an explanation. She found trying to achieve the perfect balance between work and family hard to accommodate. The imaginary “S” women leaders often wear on their chests doesn’t stand for “Superwoman.” It more likely stands for feeling “spent,” she says.
All the roles one assumes need to be considered and then time rationed to each, Duckett says. Those rations will change over your life according to needs that present themselves.
She says she may not be the best mom on some days and doesn’t feel like she’s operating at her best as CEO on others. Overall, she considers herself to be a very good mother and a good leader.
No one can give more of themselves than what they have, which is only 100%, Duckett says. “Give yourself permission to recalibrate: As a mom, my children don’t get 100%, they get maybe 30%,” she says. That percentage may be higher when a family need presents itself. You need to stay agile, she adds.
Authentic Leadership Requires Alignment in All Areas of Life
Russell P. Reeder, CEO, Infrascale
Since the onset of the global pandemic, it’s no longer business as usual, Russell P. Reeder, the CEO of Infrascale, writes in Forbes. With more people working from home, the line between work life and personal life blurs. Achieving work-life balance is no longer the goal while great life balance is, he says
“Authentic leadership requires alignment across all areas of one’s life — personal, family, and profession — and it has never been more critical,” Reeder writes.
A better realization about the interconnectedness of all parts of our lives can determine the quality of how we show up for all of it, he says. An argument with a partner or spouse can affect our mood at work and vice versa, he says.
Reeder offers the following tips for creating a good work life balance as a CEO:
- Start with the end in mind.He asks himself, what one thing he will have wanted to accomplish at the end of his life. It’s not the amount of money made or the jobs that were held. It’s the legacy that one leaves. “That vision is crucial because once you know where you are going, all of your decisions can flow from there.”
- Know yourself. Attempting to separate the work self from the family self is an energy waster that creates false barriers. Only by integrating all of life’s elements can leaders successfully combine all of the elements to achieve a sense of alignment with their life purpose. People need to look inward for answers and what works for them, he says. “Figure out who you want to be and be that person in all settings.”
- Have the right partners. “By having your own house in order and being clear about what you want to achieve, you can attract the kind of people who want to help you achieve your purpose or connect with peers on an adjacent path.”
An 8-Hour Day is Enough Time to Do Great Work
Jason Fried, CEO, Basecamp
Jason Fried never works more than 40 hours a week, he told CNN in a 2018 interview. He doesn’t like his employees to dedicate more than that each week either, the CEO and co-founder of Basecamp, a project management software company, says.
Fried, a father of two, has authored two books. “It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy At Work (HarperCollins 2018)” is his latest critically acclaimed book he co-authored with David Heinemeier Hannson, a Basecamp co-founder.
In the book, Fried and Hannson refer to workaholism as a contagious disease that can spread when it’s brought into the office. Workaholic leaders need to focus on having a life outside work.
Lack of sleep and rest and a perspective on things other than work amounts to beating yourself, not the competition, Fried told CNN. Working more hours or not getting enough sleep does not prevent your competition from getting ahead of you or you from getting ahead of it, he adds.
“It’s not more work that’ll get you ahead. It’s the right work on the right things the right way,” Fried explains.
When employees work over the 40-hour weekly, company-suggested limit, Basecamp management inquires as to why. They help employees remove nonessential tasks to enable them to work only as long as they reasonably should.
Working longer than is needed is not in the best interest of anyone, Fried says. “An eight-hour day is plenty of time to do great work.”
The methods for achieving a strong balance between work and family are as unique to you as the business leaders highlighted above. Learning from their experiences and suggestions is a good place to start your efforts to attain a work-life balance that will work for you.
That includes making a commitment to prioritize quality family time and setting a good example for employees by taking time from work for yourself to meet family commitments. That can encourage employees to also prioritize their family along with their work.
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