Perhaps no subject causes as much internal conflict as the issue of work vs family.
I discuss this issue so often that I feel I could write an entire book about it.
It’s a classic career situation: After years of dedication and hard work, you’ve finally made it. Responsibility, recognition, opportunity and (importantly) earnings are all there. You’ve also been lucky enough to find the right partner in life, and possibly even had children. Ideally, you’d now like to enjoy the fruits of your labour – possibly even slow down a little – and spend these precious days with your fast growing family.
The problem is, there’s a new breed of competition catching you. Youngsters who don’t have the responsibilities you have and who can work longer and harder – perhaps even make more sacrifices. Therefore, ironically, rather than toning it dow you actually find yourself having to work even harder, make sure you maximize your hard earned opportunity and find yourself spending much less time at home then you’d like to.
In nearly 15 years as a recruiter, I can say with confidence that this is something nearly everyone has to face.
What happens next is usually one of two things. Some people, see the situation for what it really is and try to genuinely do something about it. The rest try to justify this extra time at work by “providing for their family” and only realise when its too late.
Regardless of the circumstances and reactions, one thing is certain. In most cases, unless we are literally saving the world, our families are much more important than our work.
And ironically, what I’ve found is that many of the most successful leaders I have worked with do have a great balance between work and family. To quote one well known FTSE 100 CEO I know, “you can always get a new job, but its much harder to get a new family”.
Here are some ways great leaders balance work and family.
They have strict daily routines
As hugely social creatures, what we really crave is the regular feelings of warmth and connection.
The key word being regular. Whether it is a quick hug, a genuine compliment or simply spending a few minutes holding hands doing nothing. Just like food, water and air our bodies need love and connection regularly to survive.
Not expensive tickets to the big game on the weekend. Not a lavish meal in a fancy restaurant at the end of the month. No, what we really appreciate, value – and more importantly REMEMBER – are the regular routines that make up our lives.
In the business world, most of us tend to have self-created distinctions between the working week and weekend. It’s OK we say to ourselves – to hammer it during it the week and focus exclusively on work – because when the weekend comes we’ll be fully dedicated to the family. Problem is, our families lives don’t stand still during the week and they move on without us. Our husband and wives might have an urgent issue that needs time to be discussed. Our children will still come home with problems at school. Our siblings might be busy themselves on the weekend with their own families. When the weekend comes, all we’re doing is our best to play catch up.
However great leaders are different. They understand that regular routine with our loves ones – however small – is the basis of any solid relationship. Hence they build it strictly into their daily routines.
They have breakfast as a family. They commit to dropping the kids off in the morning. They insist on having a ten minute debrief in bed with their partner at 10’oclock every single night.
Whatever the routine – large or small, they stick to it.
Great leaders build family routine.
They mix it
In todays fast moving and ever connected world, work and family don’t always have to be totally exclusive.
Sure, a lot of the time work will need 100% of your presence and attention. However often there are also unexplored opportunities to mix the two.
For example, one well known executive at a NY technology company meets his wife for lunch every single day. Another lady I know – who travels to China over ten times a year, tries to book certain trips in line with school holidays and insists on taking her two children with her. It’s something that costs her a considerable amount (and she’s not the best paid person in her company by some way) but nothing compared to the precious time she values with her children. An ex-colleague of mine commutes to The City every day with his father.
Myself personally, I always blog (including now) in the morning after breakfast with the kids. We have a routine – I blog and they do their homework. And by spending time together we actually look forward to it – enjoying our own work as well as respecting each others.
Great leaders understand that simple tweaks can make a big difference. We perform best when we are happy, hence it makes sense to try to complete as many tasks as possible when we are around those we love most. Sure, there will be undoubtably be times when you will need to give work 100% undivided attention, and others when your family requires it too. However by sometimes doing both you can get the best of both worlds.
Great leaders mix it when they can.
They choose a great culture
However there is one factor that influences the likelihood of whether you can achieve that magical work and family balance more than any other.
Something that is either there or not.
And that is to work for an organisation that has a great culture.
You see, even with the best planned routines and genuine desire to achieve balance, nothing will be possible if those that you work with are only focussed on getting business results and nothing else.
The problem is that’s often what traditional business thinking involves. To work as hard as possible from nine to five (if you’re lucky) and to win at all costs. To not think about anything else during this time. To travel as much as required, to have exactly the same working hours as everyone else (whether intern, parent or carer) and to be able to respond to email whenever required.
Most bosses will know the names of those 3-day-old new sales leads you are working on, but probably still won’t remember the name of your teenage daughter.
Great leaders understand that change starts from the top. In order to create an organisation that truly values the balance of work and family for everyone, it’s essential to create the right culture that allows the flexibility and confidence to do so.
It’s something that’s incredibly rare, but once achieved can create results and satisfaction that are truly amazing.
And in exceptional cases, great leaders treat employees like family anyway.
Great leaders create great culture.
Work can be demanding.
It’s easy for days, years and even decades to fly by.
In the meantime, often our family life can suffer. Hence it’s essential to get the right balance – to make sure we’re doing what truly satisfies us – in order to make sure we don’t regret it before it’s too late.
Great leaders understand the importance of balancing work and family effectively. They insist on building regular daily routines and choosing an organisation that has the right culture to spend time with their family that they can cherish forever.
How do you balance work and family?
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