The lack of balance between work and personal life is getting worse.
It’s not that some people aren’t trying, but the workload and the inability to truly get away from work are driving more businesspeople to spend more time working and less at home and with family.
In a survey over a base of 2,000 senior executives and managers in hundreds of businesses, we found that less than 1 percent of them thought most people in business today were extremely balanced when it came to work and personal life.
And when it comes to that balance, the number of managers who feel most people in business are unbalanced has gone up compared to three years ago, when we conducted this same worldwide survey.
"There is no balance, North Americans live to work," said one survey respondent. "From middle managers up, we are conditioned to accept 60-hour workweeks as the minimum standard, often with artificial deadlines that have little to do with reality."
"In the everyday rush to get things done and trying to find time to meet the personal needs when business has so many demands on people, it makes more people tend to live to work rather than work to live," said another respondent.
When it comes to personally balancing their work and home life, slightly more than half of respondents said they were balanced, with fewer than 15 percent saying they were extremely balanced.
Part of the difficulty in balancing work and personal life is that more people can more easily stay connected to work all the time, largely due to technology.
"This survey struck a chord with me," said one respondent. "I am on vacation, but it’s not my father’s vacation, that’s for sure, because I’m checking e-mails and voice mails frequently. It is a great example of the fact that for most successful individuals, work/life balance has become almost non-existent. If you are a high achiever, you are on call most of the time, even when on vacation. The same technology that has helped us to be more successful and efficient (e.g., Blackberry, Wi-Fi) has become so ubiquitous that very few places, however remote, are beyond the reach of work."
Said another: "There’s too much technology that keeps me connected to work when not at work. I feel compelled to view e-mail and respond at nights and on weekends. I recently made the decision that I will check e-mail when I first get home only. On weekends, I will maybe look once or twice on Saturday and check on Sunday evening with the expectation of only responding to very critical issues or e-mails. This seems to be helping me better balance."
The real key to achieving work-life balance regarding technology is to know when and where to turn it off. While being continually connected has obvious business benefits, people need to take breaks from the constant barrage of communications to recharge and think. Vacation is to take vacation.
"Today’s culture is based on always being in touch via cell, e-mail, ‘crackberry,’ whatever," said one survey respondent. "Taking time off is nearly frowned upon, it seems. It’s gotten pretty sick overall and I find it affects me, leaving me feeling guilty perhaps if I don’t work on a weekend. I also believe there are some people who WANT to overwork because it makes them feel important. My husband nearly twitches from nerves if he doesn’t check e-mail or work on the weekend."
Business leaders should step up and support more work-life balance both for themselves and those they manage. More balanced employees are likely to be more productive as well as stay with the business longer.