With the New Year comes a new set of resolutions. And this year, many resolutions have aligned with the theme of a well balanced life. However, coaches have found that many executives are facing the challenge of how exactly to balance their work and home lives. Within this insight article, we examine the importance of finding a balance between work and home life, common misconceptions about this delicate balance, and tangible ways executive coaches can encourage clients to find their balance.
“It’s all about quality of life and finding a happy balance between work and friends and family” - Philip Green
The importance of work-life balance
The balance between work and life has many effects on an executive, their family, and their business. Below we dissect some of the drawbacks to having a poor work-life balance and the potential benefits of having a balanced life.
Sometimes, the busyness of work and stress can blindside an executive’s genuine goal of being an impactful parent or sibling. An example of this can be seen in Episode 1039 of the Arete Coach podcast with Ron Merryman. Ron shares an experience he had with a client whose teenage daughter “wasn’t talking to him anymore” because of his excessive work hours. In response, Ron worked with him and gave him some suggestions to start rebuilding that relationship. Soon, Ron’s client and his daughter were communicating and spending time together again.
Dr. Thomas explains that when there is an imbalanced between work life and home life, “problematic” behaviors can arise which ultimately affect “work colleagues” and/or “family members.” She shares that if “organizational loyalty is stressed at the expense of family… withdrawal from family roles may be expected.” Even work stress can affect an executive’s relationships outside the office. If an executive’s “work obligations” are not reduced when they are at home, their “time spent at home may be overshadowed by constant work-related thoughts and pressure” (Dr. Thomas, 2021). When executives unintentionally prioritize work over their family roles and friendship roles, these relationships suffer. Dr. Thatcher of Highland Springs Clinic defines family and other social relationships as “essential to our mental and physical well-being” (Dr. Thatcher, 2020). Having a balanced work/home life is essential for proper maintenance of social and family relationships; ultimately having several resounding positive effects on an executive’s physical and mental well-being.
“Don’t get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.” - Dolly Parton
Mental and physical health
For the executive with an imbalanced work-life schedule, there is an increased amount of stress due to the unmet needs of either role. When executives are stressed about unmet needs in their home or career they can face “decreased health” and a negative impact on their “personal relationships” which directly affects their physical and mental health (Dr. Thomas, 2021).
Chronic stress from an imbalanced work and home life has been associated with a weaker immune system, more minor illnesses, muscle aches, headaches, increased risk of strokes, and an increased risk of heart attacks (Dr. Thomas, 2021). An imbalance life can also contribute to anxiety and irritability which can “culminate into a prolonged depression, sadness, and drug or alcohol abuse” (Dr. Thomas, 2021). Dr. Nortje gives an example of an overworked academic named Ryoichi Fujiwara who had a drastic imbalance between their home life and work life. Because Ryoichi was overworking herself and also working every weekend she “lost 22 pounds, was never hungry, and couldn’t sleep.” Her extreme physical changes spurred her towards adopting regular working hours, avoiding over time, and regular exercise. Dr. Nortje shares that after a few months, Ryoichi was back to normal health after adjusting her work-life balance (Dr. Nortje, 2021).
Work-life balance has direct effects on the stress levels, mental health, and physical health of an executive. Dr. Nortje states that those with “more time for their personal life are less likely to develop illness and stress-related conditions” (2021). Without the ability to unplug from work and plug into family and other social relationships, executives are subject to the stress of unmet expectations from both work and home; ultimately negatively affecting their mental and physical health.
Business and productivity
Although many executives believe that working more hours at the expense of their family relationships, social relationships, mental health, and physical health will pay off with major business profits, research says otherwise. One of the many side effects of an imbalanced work and home life is “unproductivity” (Dr. Thomas, 2021). In Europe, labor laws prohibit working more than 48 hours a week in most professions, “indicating that beyond this, labor is unhealthy and relatively unproductive” (Dr. Thomas, 2021). European laws also require that employers give employees “at least 11 consecutive hours of daily rest and at least 24 hours of uninterrupted weekly rest every 7 days” (European Union, n.d.). What can we learn from this? That everyone needs rest. Consider asking your coaching clients the following: If entire nations can run on allowing employees to have 11 consecutive hours of daily rest, what is preventing you from a reasonable rest from your workload?
Having a balanced work and home life can lead to higher levels of productivity, reduced absenteeism, higher commitment, and increased motivation in the workplace (Dr. Thomas, 2021). Furthermore, when executives have more time to run personal errands like going to the doctor, they are “less likely to use work hours on non-work-related issues” (Dr. Nortje, 2021). This can help executives stay focused during their working hours and have their full attention on tasks that are important for their businesses to continue running. When executives have a balanced work and home life, they are more able to focus on, and commit to, their work during regular working hours. This makes them more productive, enhances their ability to manage their time, and helps them achieve their workplace goals while still investing in their important outside-of-work relationships.
“Invest in your work-life balance. Time with friends and family is as important as times at work. Getting that out of balance is a path toward unhappiness” - Stephen Gillett
Work-life balance misconceptions
Since the farmer left the field and entered the office, there has been a continual debate over what a proper work-life balance is, how it is achieved, and what it means for the executive/worker. There are several common misconceptions that business leaders and executive coaches alike can unintentionally believe in.
Only one role can succeed
Many executives who believe they must work for 80+ hours weekly buy into the misconception that only one of their roles, either executive or family member, can be fully fulfilled and succeed. However, this is not the case. As aforementioned, there are many negatives to having a poor social, home, and family life outside the workplace. Without the necessary care for the body and the mind that outside-of-work relationships provide, executives can face challenging obstacles in their careers ranging from stress, reduced productivity, relationship challenges, and chronic illness. Success as an executive is not isolated from the effects of stressed family relationships and social isolation. When executives find balance in these two areas of life, they reap the benefits of healthy socialization and are able to intentionally achieve their career goals.
Separating work and home life
Long gone are the days where the briefcase could be closed and left by the door. The saying “leave work at the door” is still used today, but is increasingly difficult for executives to accomplish. Today, meetings can be held over the phone which is also used in the home to call family and friends that are out of town etc. And with the help of WiFi, executives can log into their work emails easily from home.
Instead of having a boundary between work and home life with the saying “leave work at the door,” perhaps today’s executive needs a new saying such as: “leave the to-dos at the door.” This saying could help executives refrain from excessively checking emails, taking phone calls, making phone calls, solving problems, and bringing the to-dos and responsibilities of their role as an executive during their time as a parent or friend at home.
Several psychologists and researchers have indicated that work and home life impact each other in several theoretical models including the following: compensation, resource drain, instrumental, congruence, conflict, and spillover-crossover. Some researchers support the “work-life integration” model, which encourages executives to involve people in their “work, personal life, and community domains” so they can “work together to help one another achieve their goals in each domain” (Dr. Nortje, 2021). Clearly, the work and home life of an executive are not separate from each other and executives can create their own unique balance that incorporates the needs of both domains.
“Work-life balance is about creating a life that flows with you rather than a life you have to power through.” - Jaime Marie Wilson
One size fits all
Everyone’s work-life balance will be unique to their needs, role in their family, and the needs of their business and family. For example, an executive who is on paternity or maternity leave will have a work-life balance unique to the needs of their new family member. Later in life, this executive can return to the workplace as their child develops and their immediate needs decrease. Furthermore, if an executive chooses to homeschool a child, their work-life balance will be different from executives whose children attend public or private schools. It is important for executive coaches to work with their clients to identify their needs, their family’s needs, and their workplace’s needs. By doing this, the executive coach and the business leader can work together to create a work-life balance that works best for them.
How to establish a work-life balance
As executive coaches work with clients to create a proper work-life balance, several key strategies can be integrated to help turn work-life balance goals into reality.
Focus on time management
One key to having a successful and beneficial work-life balance is the ability to manage time. There are several strategies that are available. In episode 1041 of the Arete Coach Podcast with Tom Cuthbert, Tom discusses the importance of guarding your time and the S.M.I.T.T.E.N. technique: Single Most Important Thing To Execute Next. The University of Saint Augustine recommends several time management techniques including the 80/20 rule, the Pomodoro Technique, the Eisenhower Matrix, Parkinson’s Law, and time blocking. All of these strategies involve examining tasks that must be done and executing them in an organized manner (2019). By creating or choosing a time management strategy, examining what needs must be met, and where time is wasted, executives can be empowered to address the needs of their family/social life and their business as well.
“Be steady and well-ordered in your life, so that you can be fierce and original in your work.” -Gustave Flaubert
Examine and discuss priorities
Sometimes, an executive’s goal to be a good parent, sibling, spouse, or friend gets sidelined by the needs of their business or the stress they are experiencing at work. This is often unintentional and not desired by executives or their family and friends. To help combat this, it is important for executive coaches to help executives identify what their goals genuinely are. Dr. Thomas states that when having these conversations and attempting to get a better work-life balance that it is “critical” for executives to understand “whether personal sacrifice compensates for the rewards of longer work commitments” and vice versa (2021). By asking difficult questions and encouraging moments of pondering, executive coaches can inspire executives to realign themselves with their genuine goals and thus create their own work-life balance.
“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” - Stephen Covey
Schedule time with family and friends
When executives learn to intentionally schedule times to be with family and friends, they are letting their co-workers know that they will be unavailable during these times and are also creating a habit for themselves that encourages investment in family and social life outside the workplace. By setting clear boundaries between your work and personal responsibilities, an executives’ team can better adjust to challenges by knowing who is available for consultation and executives can achieve their goals in both their career and family life.
Randi Zuckerberg’s “Pick Three” technique
Rani Zuckerberg published a book, Pick Three: You Can Have It All (Just Not Every Day), in 2018 and has since become a New York Times bestseller. In the book, 5 key aspects of life are outlined: work, family, friends, sleep, and fitness (Zuckerberg, 2018). Her popular tactic for achieving balance in these areas of her life is the “pick three” method. She recommends picking the top three most important events or to-dos for the day. In a Marie Claire article, she states that “the key is to pick three things to do really, really well each day” (Zuckerberg, 2018). The “pick three” method allows people to find their own personal “sense of balance” based on what “works for them, one day at a time.” By daily evaluating your top three daily priorities between family, work, friends, sleep, and fitness, individuals can readjust their priorities based on how previous days went and their unique expectations for the day ahead (Zuckerberg, 2018).
The main takeaway
As we enter the new year, it is important for executive coaches and their clients to examine their work-life balance as they are intricately intertwined and affect relationships, physical health, mental health, and success as a business leader. Although the saying, “leave your work at the door” is still prevalent, it has become outdated with the latest advancements in technology. Instead, executives should leave their to-do lists at the door and intentionally take up their role as a parent, spouse, sibling, or friend. Executive coaches can help their clients do this by creating a customized time management technique, discussing and identifying priorities, and intentionally scheduling time outside the workplace. Every executive’s work-life balance will look different per their situation. However, the research and medical professionals of today insist that having a proper work-life balance is vital for well-being and success.
“Balance is not something you find, it’s something you create.” - Jana Kingsford
European Union. (n.d.). Working Hours in EU: What are the minimum standards? Your Europe. Retrieved November 5, 2021, from https://europa.eu/youreurope/business/human-resources/working-hours-holiday-leave/working-hours/index_en.htm.
Nortje, A. (2021, September 29). What is Work-Life Balance? Positive Psychology. Retrieved from https://positivepsychology.com/what-is-work-life-balance/.
Thatcher, T. (2021, August 6). The top ten benefits of spending time with family. Highland Springs. Retrieved November 5, 2021, from https://highlandspringsclinic.org/blog/the-top-ten-benefits-of-spending-time-with-family/.
Thomas, L. (2021, October 8). Importance of a work-life balance. News. Retrieved November 5, 2021, from https://www.news-medical.net/health/Importance-of-a-Work-Life-Balance.aspx.
University of St. Augustine. (2019). 9 popular time management techniques and Tools.
University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences. Retrieved November 5, 2021, from https://www.usa.edu/blog/time-management-techniques/.
Zuckerberg, R. (2018, May 17). How to Live Your Life, Guilt-Free. Marie Claire Magazine. https://www.marieclaire.com/career-advice/a20722543/randi-zuckerberg-pick-three/.
Zuckerberg, R. (2018). Pick Three: You Can Have It All (Just Not Every Day). Dey Street Books.
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