A Message From the Mountaintop on the Value of Work-Life Balance

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“Work efficiently during office hours and leave on time. Give the required time to your family, friends, and get proper rest. 

Value has a value only if its value is valued.”

I came across parts of this speech the other day and was floored by its simplicity. The main object of my excitement in reading this was that it came not from someone down in the depths of the organization, but from the CEO of a major company.

In other words, it came from on the top of the mountain.

The organization crier was Brian G. Dyson, who was the chief executive officer of Coca-Cola Enterprises from 1986 to 1991. His career started in Venezuela in 1959 and he worked his way up the ladder. That was close to 30 years ago, and that kind of mindset was almost unheard of in its day.

Things have gotten out of control

With work-life balance on everyone’s agenda today, I wonder sometimes how we got to this current level of insanity. I have friends who quit certain industries because the industry MO was to pull all-nighters, or close to it.

My post last week touched on someone who worked in that kind of industry being asked to come back for more money and a prestigious title. She basically told them, after the flattery wore off, to “shove it.”

When you walk down the streets in Manhattan late at night, you notice the black town cars sitting by the curb like a funeral procession. And yes, we could say that they are waiting for the mourners to take them home. Getting home for a few hours before heading back in to work to continue the pursuit of the deliverable is a mainstay in New York.

Time to go

My first exposure to that kind of mindset was when I was working on a project years ago, and as the clock ticked on, I realized that this was not going to end anytime soon. I walked out of the building at 3 am and headed home. Then I was back on the bus at 7:30 headed back. I knew then that it was time to go.

My working in the Middle East over the past 18 months has exposed me to a new enlightened level of work. Everyone there leaves when “the whistle blows.” No one works late, no one is glued to a cell phone, and you simply do not call anyone while they are away on holiday. It is frowned upon.

People take annual 30 day vacations and think nothing of it. More importantly, the organization thinks nothing of it. My CEO would be gone sometimes for 45 days. And even during the daily workweek, at the end of the work day, his car was purring in the parking lot with the A/C on full blast ready for him to go.

How did things ever get so far?

I have always been an early riser. My normal routine is up at 4:30 am, coffee, check my email, and then head to the gym for an hour workout. Normally I’m at my desk by 7:15 am.

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At the end of the work day, I am out. That, to me, is MY work-life balance. I don’t do late nights if at all possible, and I have only done a few since my career started.

I have heard conversations with people who try to out work each other. Both are boasting how many hours they work each week, how many late nights, things like that. My comeback to them is, “what do you want, a medal?”

There is always time for what is important

There is a saying that scrolls across the teleprompter at my gym and that says “There is always time.” Although reading that at 6 am is no fun, but the truth is there.

We make time for what is important. If work drives your life, you make time for it. If family is important, we make the time for that. No one can ever design a plan that would cover every one getting their life in order.

We all have to figure out what is important in our lives and march to that drummer. If your job or career will not allow it, maybe it is time to make a change. If circumstances won’t allow it, perhaps it is time re-evaluate your circumstances.

Stop the complaining or crying on someone’s shoulder, and step back and give it some thought. The only person that will be able to figure this out is the person you see in the mirror each morning.

Time to go!

So as the clock nears quitting time, I must prepare to exit. I will leave you with the full quote of this short speech from Coca-Cola’s Brian G. Dyson. Print it out, and put it over your desk that you can see it every day. Use it as your North Star and you will figure your situation out.

There is a quote that I love: “The time to take time is when there is no time.

Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. They are 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 it.

Work efficiently during office hours and leave on time. Give the required time to your family, friends and have proper rest.”

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.

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