Work to live or live to work? Executive life is a balancing act

Written by: James Dunne
Published on: 28 Feb 2016

You are a busy, senior executive.  You work very hard.  At times, very, very hard. You enjoy it though – the challenge, the camaraderie, the nights out. To say nothing of the executive pay. While you can’t quite afford your own personal Learjet, you are not unused to turning left when you get on most other airplanes and, while expensive, your week at Val-d'Isère is almost taken for granted.

Here is a thought for you though.  It’s a cliché, but nonetheless very true to say that no-one on their deathbed ever thinks “I wish I’d spent more time in the office.”  In truth, we would actually never know this, as any thoughts at this (hopefully a long way in the future) time will presumably be taken to the grave, but you know what I mean.

It is also true (and take it from me, with my greying hairs) that too many people do work too hard. As you get older, you start to lose one or two friends from various causes and you then start to think about the times you spent working late rather than spending quality time with your kids.  OK, that quality time might have involved getting spaghetti hoops smeared all over your bespoke, Jermyn Street suit, but isn’t that better fun than trying to square the circle that is row 57 of your budget reforecast?

Too many executives, as they seek to climb to the top of the tree, burn the candle not just at both ends but also along the sides.  Sometimes, of course, long hours are necessary – the vital tender, the pitch that transforms your business, the auditors’ visits!  So by all means work hard and play hard; but don’t neglect the people who really matter.  In some businesses, this means you’ll be overlooked or regarded as someone who doesn’t put the company first and ultimately regarded as not a true ‘professional’, but I’d argue that the real ‘professional’ knows when work is important and when it’s more important not to work but to spend time with her or his family and friends.

This is not just my view.  Last summer, exec-recruiter Robert Half published a study that showed that the main reason people look for new opportunities nowadays is to achieve a better work-life balance. This study stated that nearly one third of HR directors believe that whereas five years ago higher remuneration was the primary reason for people to seek new employment, today it’s the attraction of a better work-life balance.

Please note, achieving a better work-life balance doesn’t mean that you should be a slacker, skiver or otherwise take the rip from your employer.  When you are working, it’s vital that you put your all into it, and that whatever you are doing is done to the very best of your ability.  As an example of this, I recall working in a radio studio on a commercial with the late, legendary rugby commentator, Bill McLaren.  This was for a public sector body and his fee was (to put it mildly) not large.  Moreover, the script for the 30 second commercial was far too long, but Bill, the true professional, happily suggested little edits, and when an apology was proffered for taking up so much of his time, responded simply by telling me, “We’ve got to get it right son, got to get it right.”  Not only was he totally professional, he never lost sight of his roots in the Scottish borders, where he lived with his family, and his loyalty to the BBC was such that, despite being offered lots more money when ITV briefly took over the broadcasting of rugby, he stayed and did radio commentary for the Beeb instead.  A total professional and a happy, contented man, he was – and still is – the doyen of his profession.  Now that’s a nice epitaph.

James Dunne, exec-appointments