Some would argue the concept of work/life balance is an urban myth. You either work or you have a life, but not both. This may seem a bit extreme, nonetheless it’s somewhat truthful. Over the past several years, we have become more aware of our need to achieve a healthy work/life balance and yet still we struggle in vain. The challenge for today’s corporate leaders is how to increase productivity, efficiency and profitability while balancing family time, civic involvement and activities conducive to a healthy lifestyle. After all, there are only so many hours in a day. This has been the topic of countless discussions by concerned social scientists, industrial engineers, school counselors, family physicians, parents, and corporate executives. Obviously, work/life balance is an elusive concept that few have mastered.
Tom Owens, a Senior Vice President in the Capital Markets Group at Hines, is one executive that seems to have mastered the concept. I had the pleasure of interviewing Tom along with three other executives from different institutions. My goal was to get an objective perspective on how successful financial executives manage their demanding careers while maintaining a healthy lifestyle outside the office.
Tom has built a successful career with Hines spanning over 30 years. Hines, a multi-billion dollar Commercial Real Estate Company has a good reputation in the industry as a well managed, privately held company that attracts talented and high caliber executives. Currently, Tom is a key resource for their fund and project managers. He works on special projects from raising capital and fund asset allocation, to managing the corporation’s private investment projects. Until a few years ago, Tom’s typical day started with an early morning family breakfast and like many executives, went non-stop, some days until 7pm or later. He usually didn?t slow down until well after 5pm. The remainder of his day was spent reading memos, contracts, and legal documents while completing necessary reports, schedules and returning calls and emails. This was his typical work day.
Tom is equally committed to his family and community. He is currently on the Board of Directors for Houston Habitat for Humanity and is an active mission volunteer with an international non-profit group that travels to underdeveloped countries, helping the local people drill and repair water wells. Tom is also on the Board of Directors at the College of Biblical Studies, and is actively involved in a mentoring program at a local prison. He tries to exercise at least three times a week, is active in his church, and walks most evenings with his wife Patti.
When I asked Tom how he was able to maintain such a full schedule and not neglect his work responsibilities, he said he learned a long time ago the art of planning and delegation. Furthermore, he had to realize his limitations and admit he couldn’t do it all alone. This seems to be a major challenge for many high level managers. When accepting responsibility for key projects, we sometimes find it difficult to delegate. It’s not uncommon for over achievers to over commit. When this happens, usually family and personal time get pushed aside.
I’m not advocating Tom Owens’ approach as the only answer to achieving work/life balance; after all, Tom is not the average executive. But I would contend, he has discovered his own secret to happiness, and it seems to work. One thing for sure,
there seems to be a direct correlation between positive activity outside the workplace and maintaining high energy levels. These activities help us psychologically and physiologically reduce stress and recharge our mental and physical batteries which intern enable us to work at peak performance. Furthermore, this balanced approach to work and life outside the office, keeps us energized about our careers, our organizations and our quality of life.
During my interview with Tom, I found a humble man dedicated to his family, his spiritual beliefs, and his community as much as he is to his career and his company.
What’s interesting is Tom never has to defend or justify his priorities because he is able to stay on track and keep everyone happy including himself.
Employee burn out has been a serious concern for companies and executives over the last two decades. With more international competitors in domestic markets, American companies have to do more with less. Our society has cultivated a work ethic that places our careers at the pinnacle of life in this country. Although this strong work ethic has enabled us to become a world super power, it has also created some not so super problems. It’s no secret our obsession with work has resulted in some harsh realities. American families have become less connected and more dysfunctional. Stress related illnesses are increasing at an alarming rate costing employers more for employee health care coverage. Arguably, not all Americas’ social and health problems can be blamed on a poor work/life balance, but most experts agree it’s a contributing factor. The bottom line is, our quality of life will continue to deteriorate unless we address this issue.
Only until recent years have corporations realized the importance of employee work/life balance and how it relates to productivity and longevity. Some corporations have taken steps to address these concerns and are seeing positive results, while others are merely giving lip service. An excellent source for companies that have made considerable strides in implementing successful work/life programs is the Fortune 100 Best Companies listing that is published annually.
The challenge corporations encounter in implementing a proactive plan to support work/life balance is not necessarily in the plan itself, but more the challenge of implementing and sticking to a plan over time. Many executives try to schedule and plan time for themselves and their families with good intentions, but later end up rescheduling to meet other work related demands. Their planned personal and family time often gets pushed further and further down the priority list. It is difficult in our culture for many to give equal time consideration to personal or family activities, since our employment is what puts bread on the table. Sure, many will boldly state their family time or worship time comes first, but in actual practice their words speak louder than their actions.
In order for us to consistently attain work/life balance, we must change our work ethic and corporate culture through education, acceptance, communication and accountability. As corporate decision makers, we must put the responsibility equally on ourselves as well as our employees. This will create a culture that rewards and praises executives for having the vision and commitment to encourage personal, family and community involvement. When companies include work/life balance programs as part of career development initiatives, we will begin to see a more productive, creative, healthy and happier workforce with less turnover and lower absenteeism. Many proactive companies have already taken measures to encourage work/life balance. Some possible solutions to consider are listed below.
1. Establishment and implementation of employee education initiatives focused on the importance of employee wellness through work/life balance programs that are regularly introduced as part of the corporate culture.
2. Establishment and implementation of employee career development and mentoring programs that mandate supervisor’s responsibility to provide continuing development of subordinates through mentoring and delegation practices.
3. Consistent assessment, follow-up and accountability of work/life programs to ensure programs are producing positive results and publicizing these results to further educate employees and reflect corporate support.
It will take a concerted effort, but if we sincerely embrace these concepts, our companies and communities will reap the long term benefits.
Hank Rennar is the President and Managing Partner at Career Advocates International, an executive career consulting and recruiting firm in Houston, Texas. He has been a featured speaker at various conferences and workshops and has authored articles in
Texas Banking Journal, Houston CPA Forum and Financial Executive. Hank can be reached at 603-788-2677 or email@example.com