Balance starts at the top

I’m a big fan of the AFR‘s workspace. Every Tuesday, it’s two pages of writing about the culture of the workspace, which always includes an article called “Corporate Woman”, but often has another piece about work-life balance and the implications for companies. Unfortunately it’s subscription only, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Figuring out how professional jobs can organise their worklife balance for their employees better is more complicated than most writers make out. This kind of space in the financial press is both a welcome acknowledgement from the business world that it’s an important issue, and part of helping businesses figure out the answers.

Anyway, one of the articles today was about CEO’s failing to model the right behaviour in having a work life balance. Apparently at a recent Meet the CEO event, David Morgan (CEO of Westpac, one of Australia’s big four banks) was asked how he reconciles his public statements that he wants to see more women succeed in senior management with the way he manages his working life – spending 12 hour days and many weekends working (if not at work). The questioner pointed out that many women would look at that kind of life and conclude they didn’t want it.

The article went on to quote other CEO’s who were also strong advocates of improving senior female representation in business, who also spend an inordinate time at work. It’s hard to paraphrase, but basically they blamed a combination of their desire for perfection, and the fact that the job was, fundamentally, impossible to do in 40 hours a week.

I do think that there are some jobs that require as much of your waking life as you can give (as an avid watcher of West Wing, Chief of Staff at the White House comes to mind).

But then, I do know a few CEOs who are very disciplined about the time they spend at work, and they don’t seem to be much less effective than those who don’t. If you look at US Presidents – Ronald Reagan was famous for not spending that much time in the office, and while I don’t agree with his politics, it’s hard to say he was a substantially worse president in giving effect to his vision than those who came before and after him.

So is it reasonable to criticize a CEO for setting a bad example?

  1 comment for “Balance starts at the top

  1. August 22, 2006 at 11:14 pm

    I think it’s not only reasonable, but necessary to criticize such a CEO. I don’t think we’ll ever attain equity in gender representation at the heads of companies and governments until some men give up trying to do everything. Is there dishonor in admitting that you need an effective leadership team to run a corporation, a government, anything? No, but it does require the ability to work in a team, and I’m not always sure that is a skill that is valued as much as the skill of working 80 hours a week (if that is, in fact, a skill).

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