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Work-Life Balance? It’s a Choice

In the mid-19th century, the separation of work and “life” first emerged as a concept. Since then, it has been one of the most important challenges cited by employees and managers alike.

Recent EY statistics on work-like balance indicate the challenge is global and growing: Approximately half (46 percent) of managers worldwide are working more than 40-hour weeks, and four in 10 say their hours have increased over the past five years. Meanwhile, younger generations are seeing their work hours increase, with 47 percent of millennial managers reporting an increase in hours versus 38 percent for Generation X and 28 percent for baby boomers.

French-born CEO and YPO member Alexandre Garese, who has been living in Russia for more than 25 years, shares his perspective and understanding on what it means to achieve a “balanced” life. The private equity global entrepreneur has balanced leading several companies in the agriculture and energy sectors, raising six children (ages 6 to 20), and taking on leaderships roles among YPO’s network of peers.

In speaking to YPO, Garese makes a case for choosing priorities as a way to reach a more balanced life at work and home:

How do you define work-life balance?

The definition of work-life balance is somewhat misleading. The problem is that society makes us believe we have many choices while in fact we don’t have time to do everything, so in a way it is an illusion that one can achieve a work life balance.

It is possible, however, to facilitate a more integrated and balanced life. Each of us has different expectations of what that means. So to start, you need to clarify your expectations of what would be a balanced life and then be consistent with choices that support those expectations

Do you see the pursuit of this balance becoming more challenging?

Today, most people are constantly distracted by technology and have a harder timing focusing. People are always checking their many messages, afraid to miss anything, afraid to disconnect. So, the environment is making it harder to focus on one’s life priority. What I see from my personal experience, which may be subjective, is that the new generation of millennials, entering the workforce and starting to take managerial roles, appears to be always connected but in fact they are always disconnected from themselves. It is a kind of paradox. They may not want to stay long hours in the office but while doing sports or other leisure activities, they are always listening to music or checking their phones. As a result, many may never be 100 percent present in one place. So perhaps a different struggle is emerging, finding a healthy balance between technology and reality.

What key advice would you give busy chief executives?

In addition to taking a personal choice and applying consistency in prioritizing that choice, chief executives should remember that the process of finding the best balance is often a work in progress and always needs to be corrected and improved. There is no quick fix as life is changing all the time and people need to adjust and consciously work on deciding what is important for them. Many times, they will forget their priorities. But if they try to maintain the commitment to that choice, then they will have a better chance to find their own personal balance. Also, they should be clear with others about their choice, whether a business partner, spouse or friend, so compromises can be made.

I don’t have the perfect solution for achieving work-life balance. The answer must be found inside each of us and should be revisited and redefined as situations change

You are very active in YPO. Why is that important to you?

A person’s definition of success is not only based on business success. I like YPO because it not only focuses on business issues but also integrates family and personal issues. Human beings cannot be defined only by how much revenue and profit they generate. Integrating other aspects of their lives is important for their well-being. Through the peer approach of YPO, I also realized we often share similar challenges, including work-life balance issues, and often experience similar emotions and solutions.

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Rola Tassabehji began her career as a marketing trainee in Unilever Arabia and from there moved into several management roles within the marketing and communications function in Unilever global and regional teams, including brand development manager, Dove, Unilever Africa, Middle East, and Turkey and communications manager, Unilever North Africa and Middle East. Following ten years with Unilever, she relocated to Abu Dhabi, U.A.E and joined the team that launched INSEAD campus in the Middle East as external relations director. Rola completed her undergraduate degree at McGill University in Canada, has a Masters degree from the American University of Beirut and a post graduate degree in journalism from London School of Journalism.