IN BRIEF: A lack of work-life balance can lead to unhappiness, depression, irritation,
aggression, anxiety, exhaustion and even illness. But when you’re at the top of your
organisation, balance sometimes seems impossible.
Striking a balance between work and life is difficult, especially when you’re a top executive. Apart from the obvious
demands of a senior role, maintaining a sense of balance is complicated by commitment or loyalty to the company,
job frustration, technology (email and cell phones translated into being available 24/7 somewhere along the line!),
and the job design and resources available (for example, staff that lack the necessary skills or poor communication
For many executives, it’s not a simple formula of time spent at work compared with time spent on other
responsibilities and interests. Hours worked is an important measure of work-life balance, but not the principal issue
for most. Instead, it’s more about control, choice and being able to match work patterns to their own lifestyle and life
Some are comfortable with long workdays as long as weekends are off limits. For those with young children, it may
be important to be home regularly for dinner, bath and bedtime rituals. Others prefer sustained periods of intensive
work, punctuated by significant breaks of real relaxation.
It is vital to determine what you needs are, what your current situation is, and how you’d like it to change. Here are
some strategies that can help you attain the balance you require:
• Make careful choices about the job you take on. Choose work you believe in and enjoy. There’s nothing
more soul-destroying than spending the greater part of every day doing something you don’t like or believe
• Remember to pack your sense of humour. It’s just a job; don’t take it too seriously. You spend most of
your day there, so you might as well have fun.
• Make time for exercise, whether it’s walking to work, running at lunchtime or walking to and from
• Make time for other activities you find relaxing and refreshing. This means knowing what you enjoy
doing and deliberately making time for it.
• Manage your diary. Mark out blocks of time in your diary for things that are important to you (taking the
kids to school, having lunch with your partner or just some quiet reflection time). Make sure your personal
assistant or secretary understands that you are not to bothered under any circumstances during this time.
• Schedule holidays and make sure you take them.
• Protect the boundaries between work and the rest of your life. The boundaries may be time-specific,
such as never working on Saturdays. You may have a rule about not bringing work home or only doing work
in the study, so the door can be shut behind you when you leave it. Or you may decide not to answer the
phone during family meal time.
• Develop transition patterns or rituals between work and home. These included preparing the ‘to-do’
list for the next day, organising the desk, walking home or going for a walk immediately on getting home,
changing from work clothes or sitting down with a glass of wine.
• Make technology your friend. For some, this is having a computer at home that is networked to the
office. For others it means using a pager rather than a mobile phone as a contact point.
• Monitor and respond to your own stress. Experience in senior roles can equip people to recognise their
own stress levels, but it can also make them immune to early stress signals. Deliberately monitor your
stress levels and ask family and friend to help you recognise early signs.
• Structure the job appropriately. Ensure that there are a manageable number of people directly reporting
to you. Delegate where possible and negotiate reasonable deadlines. Be realistic and honest about what is
and what isn’t possible.
So there you have it. If life is all about work at the moment and this is the way you want it to be, just remember
to nurture yourself and take time to decompress now and again. If you would like more balance in your life, the
suggestions above can bring it within your reach.