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by Derek Loosvelt | June 15, 2016


Having a healthy work/life balance means different things to different people. To some, it means not working more than a certain number of hours a week. Say, 40 or 50, or even 75. To others, it means being able to work, at least part of the time, where you want and when you want, irrespective of how much time you actually have to work. That is, being able to work at home or remotely if need be, or just once in a while if there's really no need for the daily commute. And to others, it's a combination of the two: not working too many hours as well as having a fair amount of flexibility in where and when you work. Which, more or less, is what I believe having a healthy work/life balance to mean. And, to me, at this point in my life, as a working father of a five-year-old, work/life balance is one of, if not the most important aspects to a job.

The reasons for this are: (1) it's important that I'm able to spend a significant amount of time with my entire family (wife and son), ideally on a daily basis, (2) it's extremely important that I'm a part of my son's life and see him often, ideally on a daily basis (I take him to school in the morning and spend time with him before he goes to sleep at night), and (3) I hope to be there for most, if not all of the important events in my son's life.

That said, I'm no CEO, meaning my job isn't as demanding, time-wise or stress-wise, as people who oversee and manage hundreds or thousands of people, and millions or billions in revenues. But, as it turns out, these days, some of these people want similar things that I do out of a job.

In interviews with 25 CEOs in industries such as retail, consumer products and law, The Wall Street Journal found that male chiefs are actively seeking a semblance of balance in their personal and professional lives. Some bosses nodded at the fact that their jobs are all-consuming, with most home and child-rearing duties borne by their spouses. Others say they manage to fit family into packed schedules, but it takes work. Many older executives said they felt conflicted about missing family life while climbing the corporate ladder, adding that they are trying to change their ways—partly to set an example for employees rising in the ranks behind them.
“Your kids are only young once, and you can’t get that moment back. If I have any regrets it’s that one,” Dan Glaser, the CEO of Marsh & McLennan Cos., said of the times he put work ahead of back-to-school nights and sports games as he advanced at the professional-services firm. “When you’re younger, you have this sense of your own immortality and you’ll always be able to catch up,” the 55-year-old said.

It took Glaser a while to realize that you don't get a chance to catch up or make it up, and that when you miss something, you miss it forever. With that in mind, he considers himself lucky that he finally learned this lesson before it was too late, saying that "he did a better job being present for the youngest of his three daughters, who is now in college, leaving work in the afternoon to watch her soccer games." Meanwhile ...

Other executives say they learned the hard way. Going through a divorce helped Choice Hotels International Inc. CEO Steve Joyce, 56, realize that he needed to better incorporate his family with his work and travel schedule. He now takes his girlfriend and children along on work trips and carves out time for himself too—whether it is a daytime workout or a museum visit while traveling for business.
“It is critical for the CEO to set the tone,” he said. “If he doesn’t, there’s a secret kind of code, ‘if you take vacation, you’re not as serious an executive.’ ”

Indeed, and the fact that some CEOs and other high-ranking executives (who "know that they must tout flexible work policies and preach balance to attract young hires") are setting a healthy work/life balance tone at the top is one of the great developments happening in the workplace today.

A prominent example of this is Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who recently took a two-month leave after his daughter was born. Officially, Facebook has a very generous four-month paid-leave policy for new mothers and fathers.

Another CEO walking the work/life balance talk is Kayak Software CEO Steve Hafner, who drives his 11-year-old daughter to school everyday and at the beginning of each semester "fills a Google calendar with important events from his three eldest daughters’ schedules—including recitals, vacations and lacrosse games—and plans his work travel around those commitments." Hafner says he loves his job and loves his company but admits, "It’s not the be-all end-all for me … Work-life balance is working as little as you can to get the important stuff done and then taking all the other time and putting it against your family or your interests.”

Which is one of the better definitions of work/life balance I've come across in recent years.

All that said, maintaining a healthy work/life balance inside or outside the C-Suite can be challenging. And to that end, one executive has created a point system to help.

VMware Inc. chief Pat Gelsinger said he has built “trip wires” into his life to ensure he is not overworking. He designed a chart, maintained by his secretary, that tallies points based on how much time he spends with family. Arriving home by 6:15 p.m. earns a point, for example, while getting home by 5 p.m. earns two.

I can't say I recommend going this route (sounds a bit more like playing the board game of Life rather than living it), but I do recommend setting a schedule for yourself if there are things outside of work, family or otherwise, that you deem to be very important. And when you set that schedule, make sure that it works for your managers and/or coworkers, and that you're able to maintain all of your work commitments within that schedule. That is, make sure you can get your job done, and done well.

And, lastly, make sure to keep to the golden rule of work/life balance: that you treat others' schedules, of those you manage and those you work alongside, as you'd like them to treat yours.

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