A growing company and little work-life balance

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Q: I work for a growing biotech company.  It is a wild and fun workplace.  We are small, about 45 employees right now.  We expect to double or even triple in size next year.  I enjoy the work and my colleagues.  My one concern is about work/life balance.  None of us have it.  It has become a norm to work excessive hours and brag about working every weekend.  I don’t want to work every weekend!  Further, we get texts from the CEO almost every evening.  I feel like I am never “off” and don’t have time for family, friends or exercise.  Is this common?

A: I am sorry to hear that you sound overwhelmed and stressed.  A growth company can be all-consuming.  However, boundaries and time to re-charge are important.  A few thoughts:

  1. It is unrealistic to expect that every day will be perfectly balanced. Most days should be balanced, but some days may be wildly off-balanced.  Don’t let those challenging days overtake your life but also keep them in perspective. Are those days once per week?  That might be ok, as long as they are not every day.
  2. Set limits. Declare some weekends or evenings as “off the grid.”  Sure, there are some urgent issues which arise, which require immediate attention.  However, there are others, which are important, but not urgent.  I had one Vice President share a story several years ago.  This Vice President would receive calls at night from her CEO.  At first, as a new employee, she would drop everything and respond.  One night, she received a call and realized it was not urgent but instead these calls evolved into an expectation, almost a habit.  The question the CEO had was about the color red on their website.  Specifically, should the red be “true red” or “bright red” was the question.  You or I could probably not tell the difference between the two, but this CEO wanted an answer that evening.  There was no looming deadline.  It could have been handled with an email and it did not have to be answered that evening.
  3. View work-life balance differently. Dale Arsenault, Director of HR Solutions at KGA, a leading work-life and employee assistance consulting firm in Framingham, offers this advice: “It’s more about work life integration and setting your priorities in both areas. The key to making it all work is a good support structure in your personal life and in your work life.”

It is important for growing companies to building a healthy and balanced culture.  It starts at the top.  If a CEO expects that employees will be available 24 hours per day, that is problematic.  Senior leaders might have to take calls or emails, as needed (when there is truly an urgent issue), but that should be sporadic and not the norm.