Is life balance for managers a joke?

You are a manager. You get paid ‘The Big Bucks’. You get paid to get the job done. But do you get paid to give up Life Balance?

Doing long hours is often held as a ‘Badge of Honour’. People who aren’t seen to be ‘doing the long hours’ are seen as people who are effectively cheating the system. In other words, not doing long hours is frowned upon.

My work brings me into contact with people in management roles. The vast majority of them work very long hours.  They make a lot of sacrifices for their work. Some don’t take holidays for fear that work will get out of control while they are away. Others take on extra roles when organisational restructures occur. In fact I recently had a friend who is a senior manager at one of Australia’s largest organisations inform me that he was now doing the role of three senior managers due to two of his colleagues having had accepted redundancies. He expressed his frustration that his normal management practice of maintaining strong relationships with his direct reports had been negatively impacted because he simply had too many direct reports as a result of the re-organisation and he couldn’t keep up with what needed to be done, let alone effectively communicate at an individual level with his team members. The amount of work that he had to do, which included getting his head around what each of the two additional roles required was immeasurable. He was originally requested to take on the extra roles for a month. He was into his fourth month of the new arrangement when he spoke with me. Oh, and hadn’t received any extra compensation either. What impact do you think this was having on his home life?

Sound familiar?

People say, “Well, that’s just the way it is. If you want to be successful then that is the sacrifice you have to make. If you get paid the big bucks then your company ‘owns’ you. If you don’t like it, then get out.”

I find this perspective interesting. What if the organisation actually wants the talent that the person is bringing to their role? What if they want their talent fully utilised? Also, who decides what is in a job and what isn’t? It seems to me that the amount of work that goes into a management role is simply made up. If the manager speaks up about being over-worked then they are seen as being soft or not a hard worker. So, from my experience, managers just put up with it. And make huge life balance sacrifices along the way. They do longer and longer hours in the office and then, when they are home do even more hours trying to ‘catch up’.

I have recently been to two funerals of friends and colleagues. One was 58 years old and the other was 46 years old. Both men were highly successful from a work perspective. What struck me at their funerals was despite their business and work success, very little was mentioned about their work lives. In other words, these two men were far more than their work titles. It was their character, their love of family and community and their deeds of helping other people that were mentioned.

These two men were also very proactive to take charge of life balance for themselves. They didn’t seek permission from employers to spend time with their families. They just did it. They worked hard too and produced results. But they did not let their employers ‘own’ them.

If you are a manager, is the concept of life balance a joke? If so, why? What can be done about it?

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
Visit Gary at