Some employees believe that all work and no play is the only certain path to the corner office on the executive floor. While this isn’t true, it is true that commitment, dedication, and hard work are essential to leadership success. It is equally true that employees often model their own behaviour on the example set by their leaders.

Given that a “9 to 5” workday is just not realistic for CEOs and executives, how can they convey the value of work/life balance? First, I believe that top management must actively demonstrate its support for organizational policies designed to encourage work-life balance. For example, if an employee takes personal leave for any valid reason, it shouldn’t negatively affect that employee’s career advancement in any way. The rules must be applied fairly to everyone.

A second way is to dispel the myth that employee “face time” equates to results or rewards. Remaining flexible in enabling employees to balance their work with personal commitments is key. Some employees may want to work late for a couple of evenings to meet an important deadline, for instance, and then take an afternoon off once the commitment is met. Others may find it easier to work from home, free from workplace distractions. And still others may prefer to get tasks completed during the quiet of the early hours morning. A culture of “face time” ignores these differences. It not only inhibits worklife balance, it ultimately limits productivity too.

Third, I believe that leaders must disconnect from work on most weekends and certainly during their annual vacations. If your employees believe they can contact you at any time and at any place, they will likely think you expect the same of them. And when you go on vacation, don’t call into the office. It sends the message that you don’t trust your employees to make the necessary decisions.

Lastly, leaders should hold employees accountable for ensuring balance between their own working and personal lives. It’s easy to blame the boss or to make assumptions about what others might think. Taking charge and assuming responsibility is not. But leaders should help employees to understand that this is the fastest and surest way to get to the executive suite.

Carol Stephenson
Richard Ivey School of Business