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Is work-life balance a high priority for you?

Posted on from London Business School

London Business School found less than half (40%) of senior executives rank work/life balance as a high priority when considering their development for the next three to five years. Do you?

The western demographic ‘time bomb’, where a shrinking pool of talent is going to be fought over by companies, provides a real future challenge. And it’s set to be fought out on new ground where the executive compensation package and promise of fast-track promotion, are no longer the battlefield.

This isn’t just the effect of a bull market. What we are seeing is a genuine change in attitude. Gen-Y and Millennial employees are determined to enjoy the journey. Today’s emerging leaders, especially in professional services, are looking at the life of senior partners and articulating with increasing confidence that this model doesn’t inspire them and that their personal lives won’t always come second to work.

A little over a year ago, London Business School released the results of a five-year survey of participants from our 'Leading Teams for Emerging Leaders' and 'Senior Executive' programmes. The survey found that emerging leaders put work/life balance at the top of the priority list leaving promotion prospects in third place behind organisational culture. And it’s a growing trend.

Our survey suggests though that senior executives have yet to catch-up with this change of mind-set.

More than 95% of senior executives I meet admit to being ‘hurry sick’ – physiologically addicted to email and frustrated by spending large amounts of time in inefficient and often ineffective meetings. And yet, despite experts’ predictions that many of us will now live to 100 and work well into our eighties, we found that less than half (40%) of senior executives rank work/life balance as a high priority when considering their development for the next three to five years.

Crises after a missed promotion, redundancy or a death in the family are disturbingly common, prompting senior executives to reflect on their priorities. Realising that they have achieved everything that would make them happy, but finding they were unhappier than they had ever been is at the heart of the mid-life crisis. This pattern is not what is going to inspire the next generation of employees to join and stay loyal to an organisation.

It’s a clear and present danger – if senior executives and HR functions fail to create the sort of environment our up-coming talent wants to work in, they will neither attract nor retain the brightest and the best, and company performance will start to suffer.

At the heart of the problem is a false dichotomy. ‘Work/life’ balance implies two separate entities which can be separated – one bad, one good. The reality is infinitely more complex.

Here are two useful starting points though:

  • Clarify what success looks like for you in your career – no-one is going to manage your career for you, particularly in the second half of your career.
  • Create ‘non-negotiables’ in all key aspects of your life: work, relationships, hobbies and spirituality

As our lives get ever more complex, we need to take more control of how we spend our time and protect the time to think.


Richard Jolly teaches on London Business School’s Leading Change and Professional Services: Next Generation Leadership programmes for executives.

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