Updated: Aug 3
I wonder how many companies lose so many of their talent due to an out of balance work and personal life?
Talent that is self-aware, empathetic and willing to be vulnerable and have difficult conversations. These are qualities that are essential in leadership which inspire and support a workforce.
There are very often great company benefits in many multinationals, Glassdoor will tell you the top companies to work for from an employee perspective. I see many CPOs and HR Directors sharing how great it is to work for their company. The benefits they offer. The carrot that dangles to retain people and keep them working the hours perceived to make the company successful. Those in HR know that retention is more cost effective than recruitment. So although these companies support their middle management and employees at large, I wonder how much they are really doing to retain the talent at Director and C-suite level?
I open this conversation and musings after a chat I was having at the weekend. A friend, extremely successful in tech, has won numerous awards and been a multi-executive C-suite for 2 decades, was telling me that he had decided to retire. In his mid-to-late 40s he had noticed in the months running up to his exit from his last role that he and his wife were beginning to drift apart. The long days into the night, the needing to be accessible 24/7, dropping plans last minute to get a flight somewhere, were finally beginning to take their toll on his relationship. Noticing this drift, in true management and leadership style, he sat down with his wife and 2 tweens to name what was happening, offered a solution and the pros and cons of such solution and what that would mean for the family long term. The family board had an overwhelming agreement, it was time my friend dedicated more of his presence to his family. The children were entering the delicate stages of the teenage years and all the hormonal and emotional changes and challenges that come with it. The years were ticking by and this was his last chance to connect to his children before they became too old to hang out with dad, spreading their wings and heading out into the world. My friend didn’t want to miss it.
I asked him, 'Why didn’t you ask for a better life-work balance?' before I even got to finish he said because they would have waved him goodbye anyway.
So a family got their husband and father back.
But a multinational lost a great guy and team player.
I know for many families they don’t get their father/partner back. I see in practice, even in middle management the pressure people are under to manage their work-life balance and if you’ve had children and your relationship is already a bit rocky because of issues that never got addressed when they were babies, then the gap between couples just gets wider. One thing I hear frequently from men is ‘I thought things would change when the kids got older’ and they do - divorce, or if you make a last minute attempt to save your marriage, support through people like myself or counsellors or therapists.
I see executive men who aren’t as fortunate as my friend to be as conscious in their relationships with their partners and find that once they become fathers that they tend to drift away from the family. I talk more in depth about this phenomenon in another article The Forgotten Father. How men, unable to create a connection to their partner after she has given birth can feel isolated and rejected and can often withdraw from family life looking to escape from the problems at home by working late and into the weekend.
I see men under pressure to get that promotion and to be noticed in their company choosing their career over their family in an unconscious way, hoping that the success will make life easier for them and their family.
Unfortunately for many men, these decisions can lead to problems in their relationships as they are not there to be present when their children grow up. It means they are often too tired, too stressed and too preoccupied with work to be fully present for their partner and children creating further disconnection and isolation.
Many men haven’t learnt the skills to have the vulnerable conversations with their partners and children about how their work-life balance is affecting their relationships. Many men are confident at communicating their needs in a boardroom but when it comes to a relationship they aren’t even sure what their needs are.
So divorce ensues. The research is showing that for men in particular, divorce and singledom doesn’t fare well for their health and access to community.
According to sociologist Linda Waite, in her book The Case for Marriage, men are healthier and live longer when they are married compared to when they are not. Psychologist James House found that socially isolated men die young - for many men, it is the wife’s connections that keep them in community and with an active social life.
We’ve seen what an imbalance does for the relationships of employees, including executives. You may be here thinking to yourself it isn’t a company’s business to ‘get involved’ in their employees’ relationships and this has ‘nothing to do’ with the company itself. However, the data says differently.
A study in 2021 found that 4 in every 5 UK employees who had been through divorce or relationship breakdown stated that it had an impact on their ability to work. 60% of them stated that it impacted their mental health in the workplace, causing anxiety, depression, or stress.
So what I am seeing is the impact work can have on relationships and how the breakdown of the relationship is actually impacting the company itself.
I know that many reading this will be thinking that those at executive level are handsomely rewarded for their commitment. That they are being paid to deal with that amount of stress. However, I question, if someone is under huge amounts of stress from work and the potential breakdown of their relationship, how are they able to effectively lead?
How can they be present and make compassionate decisions for their people when they are experiencing so much hurt and pain around a relationship that didn’t work out?
How can they make safe judgements on the course of a company when their whole world is breaking down behind doors?
How can they lead and listen when they feel so lonely in their own relationship and so helpless and failing in their personal life?
How can they sit around the table amongst their peers with confidence when everything they have known is crumbling away?
Because I think the thing we have to remember is, that at the end of the day, they are human after all. They feel the same as you. They want the love that you do. They want a safe place to come home to after work. They want to feel like they belong to a group of people whom they love and who love them back. They want to be desired. They want to feel wanted. They want that too.
Just like you.
So maybe it’s time we started really addressing the work-life balance.
Maybe it’s time we gave the importance to people’s personal lives that they deserve.
Maybe we start looking at how we can be more supportive of the people who work for us and how we can ensure they get the support they need in their personal relationships.
Maybe it’s time the c-suite start leading from the front and show their people what is important.
That they show their people what the company really does value. That the company recognises a healthy personal relationship creates a healthy employee who is happier and as a consequence more productive at work. An executive that shows that recognising their own family’s needs is important to the health of the company.
Once the culture changes at the top, it will change the culture further down too.
Carla Crivaro is a trauma-informed and certified Sex, Love & Relationship Coach, she works with men and women internationally to reach their goals in delicious sex, profound love and authentic relationships. Carla helps men and women understand themselves and each other, sexually and relationally, in and out of the bedroom. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other articles which are supportive around this topic are: