In our executive team today, we had a bit of a discussion about work-life balance, and how to maintain some sense that work-life balance was possible in our environment (one which at least some of the time, there are a bunch of people working ridiculous hours to meet a deadline like business planning or year end reporting).
The thing that rang true to me is that the most important thing is the culture (around the place, but often driven by the senior people). If you get a bunch of people subtly (or not so subtly) competing to send the email at the most anti-social hour, or having spent the whole weekend in the office, it’s pretty hard to talk about work-life balance in any way that doesn’t promote cynicism.
If, on the other hand, you have a group of people working similar hours, but who are more embarrassed than proud of their long hours, and who might just take the odd afternoon off in the days when they’re not as busy, then you get to a point where a real meaningful aspiration for everyone is some kind of work-life balance. So it’s seen as a point of pride that the whole team managed to work a short week, and get away at 4 on a Friday for drinks (or something) rather than as a point of pride that someone managed to send an email at 1 am.
I don’t have any answers, but I don’t think people outside this kind of culture realise just how difficult it can be to turn it around, when everyone in the culture has grown up that way (in their working life at least).