Improve your work-life balance with advice from the top.
Work-life balance remains elusive for many in a world of nonstop digital, social and professional demand. Yet that shouldn’t prevent you from trying to relieve the strain caused by competing job and home priorities. Even if you aren’t lucky enough to have found one of the best work-life balance jobs for maximum flexibility, you can still improve your game by learning work-life balance tips from the masters. Current and former CEOs have tricks up their sleeves for achieving success — so who better to emulate? Learn from the following 10 work-life balance quotes from top chief executives.
In the Venn diagram of life, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos suggests considering work and personal time as one big overlapping circle rather than two parts that sometimes intersect. He aims for “work-life harmony.” “This work-life harmony thing is what I try to teach young employees and actually senior executives at Amazon too. But especially the people coming in,” he said in a Business Insider article. “I get asked about work-life balance all the time. And my view is, that’s a debilitating phrase because it implies there’s a strict trade-off.”
In The Wall Street Journal, GM CEO Mary Barra suggested that planning business lunches instead of dinners and taking other steps to prioritize after-hours family commitments are essential for work-life balance: “I’ll say ‘the meeting starts at 4:30 and this is going to end at 5:30 because I’m making my child’s sporting event.’ Everyone then says ‘okay, let’s be efficient, let’s get this done.'”
IBM CEO Ginni Rometty prioritizes health and fitness to help with balance and focus. “I make time to exercise,” Rometty told The New York Times. “It’s not being indulgent.” She added: “I think it’s got a lot to do with your ability to manage properly and stay focused. There’s no doubt about that.”
How you measure work-life balance depends on whether you’re counting only time spent in the office or time spent thinking about professional goals, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a public Q&A session covered by The Mercury News: “If you count the time I’m in the office, it’s probably no more than 50-60 hours a week. But if you count all the time I’m focused on our mission, that’s basically my whole life.”
In The Atlantic, former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi discussed the particular work-life balance challenges women face: “The biological clock and the career clock are in total conflict with each other. Total, complete conflict. When you have to have kids you have to build your career. Just as you’re rising to middle management your kids need you because they’re teenagers, they need you for the teenage years.”
The last Yahoo CEO before Verizon’s acquisition of the tech company was Marissa Mayer, who told Bloomberg her strategy for balancing professional responsibilities with personal needs to avoid burnout: “Avoiding burnout isn’t about getting three square meals or eight hours of sleep. It’s not even necessarily about getting time at home. I have a theory that burnout is about resentment. And you beat it by knowing what it is you’re giving up that makes you resentful. I tell people: Find your rhythm. Your rhythm is what matters to you so much that when you miss it you’re resentful of your work.”
In a commencement speech at Georgia Tech, Brian Dyson, former Coca-Cola CEO, described striving for work-life balance in terms of juggling glass and rubber balls: “Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them — work, family, health, friends and spirit — and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls — family, health, friends and spirit — are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.”
In a company memo, Tesla CEO Elon Musk explained his belief that work-life balance isn’t always achievable in competitive industries: “There are many companies that can offer a better work-life balance, because they are larger and more mature or in industries that are not so voraciously competitive. Attempting to build affordable clean energy products at scale necessarily requires extreme effort and relentless creativity, but succeeding in our mission is essential to ensure that the future is good, so we must do everything we can to advance the cause.”
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, as quoted in Forbes, believes that “a balanced life is essential” but that blending work and personal life has become the norm: “Employees these days expect less of a separation of work and personal life. That doesn’t mean that work tasks should encroach upon our personal time, but it does mean that employees today expect more from the companies for whom they work. Why shouldn’t your workplace reflect your values? Why is ‘giving back’ not a part of our jobs? The answer for us is to integrate philanthropy with work.”
Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz noted in his book that when you love your work, it often requires “sacrifice” and “pain” in other areas — but the results can be worth the imbalance: “Entrepreneurs must love what they do to such a degree that doing it is worth sacrifice and, at times, pain. But doing anything else, we think, would be unimaginable.”
A “movie not a snapshot” is how Nestle CEO Mark Schneider described his corporate strategy to The Wall Street Journal. And when it comes to how he approaches balancing his professional demands with his personal ones, he doesn’t mince words: “The job comes first.” Schneider added in the article that “when you have the CEO talk about his own work-life balance it may be time to sell the stock.”
Thrive Global CEO
A poster child for work-life balance after documenting in her books “Thrive” and “The Sleep Revolution” the burnout and exhaustion she experienced from extreme overwork, Arianna Huffington has been vocal about the changes she has made since then to become better balanced. As reported in an interview with Business News Daily, the Thrive Global CEO explained that it took learning about “the connection between well-being and productivity” to get her to change to healthier habits: “I started taking my sleep more seriously, I began meditating, and I began to be much more deliberate about building in time to unplug and recharge.”
When profiled about his work-life balance in The New York Times, Evernote CEO Chris O’Neill emphasized running, daily lists and gardening as part of how he keeps all his plates spinning. He also reserves Saturdays as “the kids’ day”: “The truth is that it’s not easy balancing work with family. I travel a bunch. I don’t get home in time for dinner on a regular basis. Saturday is the closest thing to sacrosanct.”
In a 2019 post on her company’s website, Ellevest CEO Sallie Krawcheck stated that she is “over the work-life balance question.” Krawcheck went on to describe four reasons why she doesn’t focus on achieving balance anymore, including the fact that she recognizes it’s “a question that so many women don’t get to ask themselves as they work three shifts to keep their families above water.” She concluded: “And I’m over it because it’s impossible to maintain, anyway, for more than six minutes.”
Discussion of work-life balance is often about how much gets done during the day. But David Karp, founder and former CEO of Tumblr, which is being sold to WordPress owner Automattic, recognizes the importance of downtime. In Inc. magazine, Karp said: “Sleep is precious to me. I’m very disappointed if I don’t go to bed before midnight. We have a rule: No laptops in the bedroom. Being on computers all the time makes me feel gross.”
As the first female CEO of one of the Big Four firms in financial services, Cathy Engelbert has been asked plenty about work-life balance. When interviewed by Time on the topic, the former Deloitte chief exec (who retired from the role in June 2019) was described as having a “black belt in scheduling,” facilitated by what Engelbert herself called “personal selfishness” to help make all the pieces fit together — for herself as well as her clients. The Time article explained how the tenacious CEO had once requested to work with a major client based two miles from her house while pregnant, after being assigned to one that would have involved traveling much farther.
The chief exec of tech giant Microsoft, Satya Nadella, goes for quality over quantity when figuring out his work-life equation. According to GeekWire, Nadella told a crowd at an industry conference that he focuses less on how much time he spends with his kids at home, but more on how strong his relationship is with them: “The moments that I’m there with my children … that is the moment that I want to be present. And that is what gives me that harmony to carry on with what is perhaps otherwise a very tough work-life balance.”
Compassion is always in fashion, and LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner leverages it for better balance. In a graduation speech at the Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania, Weiner said he strikes work-life balance by “looking forward” to both going to work and coming home, and achieves this via a compassionate approach to his day in its entirety: “The only way I can do this is by practicing compassion in both facets of my life, and not taking anything or anyone for granted.”
The Hershey Co. CEO
Michele Buck, CEO of Hershey, was recently awarded the CEO Corporate Citizenship Award. In accepting the award, DiversityInc reported that she credited not only her colleagues, but also her family for facilitating her ability to stay “grounded”: “(M)y family … makes all of this possible. It is my role as mother to three amazing children that enhances my ability to lead a company with thoughtfulness, ingenuity, and compassion.”
In a Time article about how CEO dads balance fatherhood and work, Brad Smith, who served as Intuit’s CEO until 2018, suggested that there are “rubber” and “crystal” moments in family life — meaning some events you can miss and still bounce back from (a single school play or soccer game, especially if you’ve attended many others), but some that will shatter forever if you skip them (once-in-a-lifetime events, like graduations). Smith told Time: “(D)o not ever drop a crystal moment.”
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Update 08/20/19: This story was originally published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.