Executives see worsening work-life imbalance

Mon Mar 19, 2012 1:55pm EDT
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By Adam Tanner

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (Reuters) - Media executive Oscar Gomez Barbero gave a bleak assessment of his work-life balance.

"I feel compelled to be constantly in touch with my work, including weekends and holidays, but you learn to live with this situation," said Barbero, the chief technology officer at Spanish and Portuguese-language media group Prisa.

"When you are part of the most important decision-making bodies of a company, there are no limits on dedication. I have little time for family or social activities."

In recent years, many companies on Wall Street and beyond have embraced the mantra of flexible hours and work-life balance. Read any image-building column written by a top executive, and he or she is likely to stress the importance of getting to a child's soccer game or concert.

The idea of flexibility and fewer total hours on the job has clear popular appeal. The 2007 book "The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich," for example, became a huge best seller. But tales of short hours and relaxed work environments do not mesh with reality for many senior managers. The problem is that modern communications may allow less time in the office, but compel them to work around the clock, according to 10 executives in six countries interviewed as part of a larger Harvard Business School survey.

Some grimly predict that those seeking to get to or stay in the executive suite will have to be plugged in almost constantly.

Without a company publicist to cast a positive spin on corporate life, the executives spoke bluntly about how technology increasingly captures their off hours and fills their lives with stress. All subsequently gave their consent for Reuters to reprint their remarks, and two, including Barbero, agreed to have their names published.

"There is no getting away, not at all, no, not when you are in a higher position," said Susanne Meinl, director of human resources at marketing firm Design Hotels AG in Germany. "A call center agent, they just leave the office and go home and not bother about anything, but if you have a position with a lot of responsibility ... 24/7 availability is a given, has always been and will always be."   Continued...