Back

A successful career and work-life balance? Probably not

Chris Harris, a Partner at Grace Blue, challenges the assumption that people can achieve outstanding success with a healthy work-life balance.

We‘ve all read and heard a great deal about the need to balance the running of a successful business with the need for having a healthy work-life balance. There seems to be an underlying impression that everyone can have it all – and that even those in leadership roles should take pains to step away from work whenever possible.

It’s a wonderful dream – but sadly nothing more than that. I think we need to challenge the assumption that people and businesses can achieve outstanding success without there being people in that company – usually those at the top – for whom there will be ‘life’ sacrifices.

In truth, I can’t think of many successful businesses that are not built on obsessiveness about the product or service – and many successful careers that are not enjoyed by driven and highly-focussed individuals. This is particularly true with entrepreneurs building a business and/or brand from scratch, as doing so will take all their time and effort over a period of years.

That level of focus and obsession isn’t easy – and demands sacrifice. Just ask anyone who’s ever set up their own agency.

When people in the City work consecutive nights to win big contracts, they’ve calculated that the rewards might be worth it. My nephew is currently using his holiday to work 18-hour days in the company he wants a career in, rather than the one where he currently has a full-time role. That is hardly work-life balance by HR guru standards or as recognised by your GP, but it’s the life you have to lead to be successful.

There are also very few sure bets in business. That being the case, the ‘big wins’ tend to follow a lot of hard work to improve the odds and a lot of stress in worrying about whether you have done enough. There’s no getting away from it. If you’re pitching to win a huge new client, you’ll spend untold hours preparing, rehearsing and perhaps even losing sleep.

And when things don’t work out for you, as will inevitably happen, the future winners will often spend a day wondering if it is worth it before heading back into the fray again. Others, however, will decide they need to get their lives back. And that is fine.

Of course there will be roles for some people where the balance is right, even in the most successful businesses, but it’s likely they will not be the people earning the big money. Well-run businesses compensate for the loss of work-life balance. And there is a lot of compensation in terms of job satisfaction, financial reward, a secure future, status etc.

My point is that while it is incumbent on companies to do as much to ensure the emotional and physical health of their employees, it’s more important that they compensate for the inevitable loss of some work-life balance – and when they don’t, people leave and they are less successful.

In a global executive search business that specialises in leadership roles in the marketing and media sectors, there is nothing more likely to get me looking at my watch than potential candidates saying they need to get balance back in their life. The big leadership roles don’t offer that kind of blend.

Instead, the big leadership roles offer challenge, a dynamic life, stimulation, intellectual reward and financial reward. But there’s no getting around the fact that you will be getting home late.

The Wall