All work and no play can make for a dull existence. But it can also be bad for your health, your personal life and even your job performance. That’s why finding the right work-life balance has become a hot topic in the corporate world. In separate interviews, three members of Atlantic Business Magazine’s 2014 Top 50 CEO class (Karen Sheriff, Scott McCain and Paul Antle) talk about what work-life balance means to them and how to achieve it.
President and CEO, Bell Aliant
Atlantic Business Magazine: Where did you learn the most about managing work-life balance?
Karen Sheriff: I once ran U.S. advertising for United Airlines. I had a $100-million budget and no staff. This was so long ago there was no email. You know those pink slips you’d get when you got a message? I got about 50 to 100 of those, and about 12 inches of mail, every day. When I first took this job I was trying to go through all those messages and call all those people back and read all the mail. I finally realized 98 per cent of it added nothing to my day. Once I learned to use my agency as staff and realized there were three things I could do to make the company money and those were the three things I was going to do, my work day went from 18 to 20 hours down to 10 hours per day.
ABM: Do you have certain rules, like not answering your cell phone after 6 p.m., to help maintain a work-life balance?
KS: Phones are kind of brutal. I’m on that thing at 10 o’clock at night. But it doesn’t bother me anymore. I’ve learned to multi-task and I could be doing that while I’m watching a TV show with my family. One rule I have is “don’t touch it twice.” What that means is if you pick up a piece of paper, handle it. Don’t pick it up, read it, put it down and have to come back to it three times.
ABM: When you’ve had times where the work-life balance got out of whack, did you turn to anyone for advice?
KS: When it happened to me I just used my family. I had very few role models at work. The pressure was coming from work. I had a guy I used to work for. He was well respected. At the time my son was an infant and he asked me to brief him on something at seven o’clock that night. It took every ounce of my energy to say no. The reality was I was more respected for it and it was incredibly empowering. He looked at me shocked. I think he was embarrassed. He finally realized the pressure he caused and how unrealistic and unreasonable it was.
ABM: How do you foster a good work-life balance culture at Bell Aliant?
KS: By encouraging people to take their time off, and encouraging people to be involved in their communities. But vacation is a big one. We don’t get that much and it’s really important for re-charging. I think you are doing yourself and your company a disservice if you don’t take it. One thing I also try to do is not create work at bad hours in the day. It’s actually rude to send somebody a “to do” at nine o’clock at night. It’s right for me that I get some work done then but I don’t expect everybody to do the same.
ABM: You mentor people on worklife balance. What advice do you give them?
KS: My advice to everybody would be pick your priorities and stick to them. If you want a vacation, take it. If you want to have dinner with your children, take it. We have control and I think we have gotten much better over the last 10 or 20 years at starting to take control.
Chairman & CEO, Saint John Sea Dogs; President & COO, Agribusiness Group, Maple Leaf Foods Inc.
Atlantic Business Magazine: Has your company focused much on how to help solve work-life balance issues for your employees?
Scott McCain: What we’ve concluded is that, for the most part, managing work-life balance has to be moved into this area where you have to fi gure out how to change that schedule and work it into a process that suits work and your home life. What we often see is people don’t manage their time well. Or it might be a sign of not managing properly and they are not good at delegating or organizing their work.
ABM: But if a CEO or one of their employees is having a problem fi nding a proper work-life balance, part of the problem has to be that they have too much work to do?
SM: The number one comment I’d make is if I’m the CEO or your manager, and if you have a problem when you work with me, the bottom line is you own it. Only you can fi x it. If I’m piling too much work on you then let’s have those discussions. But if it’s a problem for you, you own it and we have to talk about it. Then you have to develop a process to improve and get a better balance.
ABM: Are you happy with the worklife balance you have right now?
SM: My work-life balance today is terrific. But when my three children were young, I remember it was tough because you are managing an active career, you’re managing a younger family and it becomes a bigger issue. So what has changed? The big thing is I have three kids who are all in their 20s and they do their own thing. It’s great. You have more time to devote to yourself, your partner and your own interests. The pendulum tends to swing back.
ABM: Have you ever had a stretch during your career where the worklife balance was too skewed towards work?
SM: I’m a hockey player and a skier. When I had children and I was early in that cycle, a lot of my fi tness went out the window. When I got in my late 30s, I realized after 10 years of not getting proper exercise there was a problem. So I started being more active in the gym and I do think that helped change my work-life balance. It’s an hour out of your schedule where you tune out work and allow your body and mind to focus on exercise. It helped me a lot.
ABM: Do you think one reason some CEOs have trouble maintaining a good work-life balance is they feel the pressure to show everyone that no one works harder than them?
SM: The old school of thought was I’ve got to be the first one in the office and the last one to leave. But I would say today that isn’t the norm. Executives put in long hours, but they are smart enough to build in an extra few days of holidays. I think a lot of them would say, ‘working 80 hours a week, is that really setting a good example for my people?’ If you’ve got a better balance in your life, you’ll be a better employee. So why would I show you something that doesn’t have a good work-life balance to it? It’s not sending a good message.
President and CEO, Pluto Investments Inc.
Atlantic Business Magazine: You’ve got business interests in multiple countries and time zones. That must make it a challenge to turn off work?
Paul Antle: I have operations from Newfoundland to Calgary to China. But I’m able to spread my workload across a day. My workload is not 9 to 5. The schedule of my day is more early morning, afternoon and late evening. The parts in between are filled with time with my daughters, if I want to play a game of golf or spend some time with my wife. Everything else is built around that.
ABM: On average, how many hours a day do you work?
PA: I don’t even know. One morning recently I was up at five a.m. and I responded to a whole bunch of emails in China, which brought me up to about 7:30. Then my daughters woke up and I spent a few hours with them at breakfast. Then after breakfast the babysitter came and I could skirt in to my offi ce and make calls and do some things I needed to do. My day is kind of carved up like that.
ABM: When was the work-life balance situation at its worst for you?
PA: There was a point in my life in the 1990s when I had taken one of the companies I had started in the environmental business and we were working on four continents at one time. For one year I was home for probably one month. That was crazy. What really struck me one time was I came home and my wife was heading out with our son. I asked, ‘What’s on the go?’ She told me and then they left. What happened was I had been excluded. They were so used to doing things without me that they didn’t include me even when I was there. That was a wakeup call. I had to figure out how to do this better. So I started to delegate and involve other people in what I was doing and travelling less. Right now I think I have a good balance.
ABM: What are the things you turn to to re-charge outside of work?
PA: Golf. I love it because when I’m golfing I only think about golf. It forces me to relax. I also collect wines and when I go to my wine cellar, I drift away from everything that is happening. Even having breakfast with your kids, it’s such a simple thing but when you are there and you’re having that conversation with your two year old, it’s cool. I’m laughing. I’m enjoying watching how she thinks and what she says. It’s an enjoyable period of time where nothing else matters. If you can find those moments in a day or a week, it keeps you healthy and balanced.
ABM: In the businesses you run, how do you ensure your employees have the right work-life balance?
PA: Our policy is people have to take their vacation. People do get that time away from the company. In my view, you’re working for a company or an individual, but it’s not your life. So nobody should be expected to continuously work day in and day out and bring it home with them. That’s foolishness. We want them to be happy. We want them to be productive and have a life outside the company. It’s better for us.