The benefits of work/life balance in work performance.

Wikipedia quotes 58 institutions that use the slogan ‘A Healthy Mind in a Healthy Body’. The reason it’s so popular is because it’s so sensible. I agree, but see an equally important and often overlooked extension of this concept of balance – both the mind and the body’s health is optimised by balancing your work life with your personal life.

Finding this balance is becoming harder, not easier. A business owner emailed me this week with the following confession:

“I’m finding it harder and harder to provide outstanding service within the framework of an 8-12 hour day. I truly enjoy what I do and have great clients who appreciate my assistance but I’d love to find a way to be able to do that in a manner that leaves me more discretionary time to pursue other passions”.

He’s right. We no longer leave our work in the office, it follows us everywhere we go. The growth of 24/7 connectivity – impossible a decade ago, but normal now – brings with it it’s own set of problems. With many managers making a virtue out of being indispensable and too busy. Workaholism is not something to boast about, and I get uneasy when hearing people’s pride in working excessively.

Where these people see virtue in their non-stop efforts, I see misplaced management and insufficient delegation. There’s a difference between a responsive ‘always on’ business, and a requirement for the individuals employed there to also be always working.

Some companies mandate that all employees take vacations each year. Did you know that some do so primarily to detect possible fraud? I believe all companies should do this, and not just as an audit/fraud control measure. It should be regarded as best practice for ensuring that managers delegate well and the company is ‘fault tolerant’ and readily adapts to the occasional absences.

I recently spoke on productivity and my lead point was to work smarter, not harder. I don’t measure the worth of a person by their hours of work, but by their achievements and outcomes, and when interviewing candidates, I try to get a sense not just of what they’ve done, but how it fits in with a balanced life.

This flies in the face of some conventional wisdom, contradicting the business leaders who boast of their dedication to work and the personal sacrifices they make for their company, and is the opposite of the approach of some companies famous for their high-pressure work environments. Even worse are the companies that pay lip service to work/life balance but still demand too much from their people.

We all see things more clearly when we’re fresh. Creativity doesn’t work to a time-clock, and is best allowed to express itself freely and without forcing. We make better decisions when we’ve paused and mulled something overnight. We all are better people, at home and at work, when we’re enjoying a balanced life in both parts of our lives.

Staff retention improves when companies encourage their people to appropriately balance home and work life, and such companies quickly get a reputation as being good employers and find it easier to attract good staff to start with. This approach isn’t simply altruistic, it is best for the company as well as its people.

Companies should understand the broader meaning of ‘A Healthy Mind in a Healthy Body’and see it as more than just buying gym memberships for their staff. They should encourage and support all forms of quality leisure experiences for their employees – but without corporate involvement and without causing them to be viewed as an extension of the company.

Oh – my advice to the business owner, quoted above? Simply to add a signature line to his emails showing his hours of work and response time promise. This creates a service level expectation to his clients, and also gives him a measuring stick for when to start and when to stop. It’s worth a try.


by James Caan CBE