Work-Life Balance in the Executive Suite

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I was recently sent a link to an article from the Harvard Business Review entitled Manage Your Work, Manage Your Life. I opened it expecting to find some tangible information that I could apply to the rank and file at my own workplace – bookkeepers and loan officers and tellers. Instead, it was all about the hardships of the most overworked and underpaid people in our society – business executives.

Thank God, I thought, the Harvard Business Review is looking out for the little guy.

I don’t have any qualms with the findings of the article – that in most cases executives have had to sacrifice family, friends and personal interests for the sake of their careers. Nor do I deny that many executives put in long hours and are under increasing pressure to perform. What I have a problem with is that the Harvard Business Review thinks this topic is worthy of study while ignoring everyone else.

Plenty of people who work several floors below the executive suite have work-life balance issues. Many work two or three jobs and putting in 80 hours a week just to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads. There are single parents struggling to find affordable daycare, who have no option but to call off work if a child gets sick or if the furnace breaks down and they have to wait for a repairman. And if they do have to take time off, many of them go unpaid.

Executives, on the other hand, earn enough so that these problems become only minor inconveniences. Many can afford to have their spouses stay home and take care of children and the home. Even if they don’t, they have the wear-with-all to hire nannies and cleaning services and landscapers. And when they retire, they don’t have to wait until the age of 65 or 70. By their mid-fifties, they are walking out the door with generous retirement packages that allow them winter homes in Arizona and ski trips to Aspen while still being young enough to enjoy it. Meanwhile, due to the elimination of pension plans and decreasing company contributions to 401ks, some people who have worked hard all their lives will never see a retirement of any kind.

Wait a second, do all executives make that kind of money? Not according to the Wall Street Journal. Murdoch’s bastion of the one percent states that executives don’t earn as much as we think. According to the article, over 65 percent earn less than $250,000 a year. Of course, this doesn’t include stock options, company cars and other perks the rank and file can only dream of. Besides, I don’t know about you, but if someone gave me $250,000 annual, I’d never have to mow my own lawn again. The same article said that many saw an increase of 10 percent or less last year. I don’t know how they survive. Most people are lucky to get an annual increase that keeps up with the cost of living and isn’t eaten up by rising health care costs. And that barista who just made the executive a five dollar iced decaf low fat mocha earns seven bucks an hour and only gets about 20 hours of work a week.

So why the focus on executives by the Harvard Business Review? Why not concentrate on the rank-and-file? Simple. Its audience is either those who are in the executive suite, studying it, or want to be part of it. Those people don’t want to read about how their employees have to make the decision of whether to take unpaid time off work or leave their sick child at home alone. They want to read about real problems, like whether or not to install slate or granite countertops in their newly remodeled kitchen.

No one can have it all. Life is full of trade-offs. If you want to climb the corporate ladder, you may miss out on some little league games. Your marriage may fall apart from neglect. But these things can happen even if you don’t have these ambitions. At least executives have the means to deal and the luxury of choice which many don’t have.

I consider myself lucky when it comes to work-life balance. My wife is able to stay home and look after our three daughters (and works harder than I do, I might add). My employer provides me with the flexibility to attend dance recitals and school conferences. Almost every evening, I’m home for dinner. There have been sacrifices. We live in a modest home. We don’t take fancy vacations. But we have all we need and then some. It’s the choice we made for our family. I’m not complaining. It makes it possible for me to curl up with my girls every night and read to them. Right now, we are reading “The Road to Oz”.

As Dorothy walks through that magical land of tin woodsmen and talking scarecrows, I realize she is living in a world much more real than the writers and editors at the Wall Street Journal and Harvard Business Review will ever know.

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