When executive stress costs money, whether through decreased productivity, lowered morale or increased absenteeism, the organisation pays attention. Likewise, business reluctantly acknowledges stress when the Government forces it to, as with the pending Health & Safety in Employment Amendment Bill.
But until recently, when a chief executive's marriage fell apart, or her teenage son was caught joyriding late at night, it was no business of business. That was, of course, before the arrival of "work-life balance"--the label that means it's no longer sissy, or worse, disloyal, to put the family first now and then.
Five years ago, when America's Fortune magazine interviewed top CEOs on the subject of executives seeking work-life balance, the prevailing attitude was: "Stop whining and get back to work." Now, as the balance bandwagon gathers momentum, the executive stress industry--coaches, consultants, industrial psychologists, corporate physicians, even corporate masseurs--is gearing up for a big increase in business, encouraged by statistics that quantify the real threat posed to families by work pressure.
A survey of 5000 managers in Britain, released last year, revealed that 86 percent believe the long hours they work damage their relationships with their children, and 79 percent that they damage the relationship with their partner. A poll by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers revealed that divorce among executives is on the increase, in part because it has lost its stigma among the business elite. Preoccupation with work was cited as one of the top four causes of divorce.
In New Zealand, the Institute of Management's survey on stress found that "sufficient time for personal or family life" ranked second-highest among the attributes considered of "utmost importance" in the ideal job. Auckland recruitment company Pohlen Kean is currently conducting research as part of a study led by its British affiliate Abora-Global. Called Work and Life Balance, the survey asks managers about workload and stress levels. In last year's study, conducted across 24 countries, 67 percent said that workplace stress affected their family time, and 90 percent said work addiction is common among top managers.
Link that to research in the US, where the children of self-described workaholics were found to have significantly higher rates of depression and anxiety than children of non-workaholic parents, and where workaholics themselves evidenced more destructive behaviour--alcohol abuse, extramarital affairs, stress-related illnesses--and the future for the executive family looks bleak.
So the talk of balance--usually meaning more time with family, and almost inevitably meaning less time in the office--is encouraging. Or it would be, were it not in direct conflict with the Social, demographic and commercial trends that are conspiring to heap more pressure on our executives.
Andrew Barney, of Massey University's department of management and international business, points to "work compression" as a key factor in the increased stress encountered at the office. In the past, people spent a uniform amount of time at work--40 hours a week--from age 16 to 65. Now they enter the workforce much later, in their early to mid-20s, and reach top executive level far sooner in their career--in their 40s, 30s, sometimes even their 20s. People also put off having children until later in life so, more often than not, their career climb occurs at the same time as they start a family.
"At the point at which they're experiencing peak workplace demand, they're also experiencing peak family demand," says Barney. The problem is compounded by the trend for men to choose partners with similar intellectual and professional capabilities. Historically, says Barney, "at the very top echelons, the 90- to 100-hour-a-week executive had a wife at home. …