LBS logo London experience. World impact.

Survey finds generational gap in attitudes to work/life balance

11 Nov 2014


Less than half of senior executives rank work/life balance as a high priority, a London Business School survey has found. 

RichardJolly482x271

Despite experts’ predictions that many of us will now live to 100 and work well into our eighties, a survey by London Business School has found that less than half (40%) of senior executives rank work/life balance as a high priority when considering their development for the next three to five years.

This is in direct contrast to the priorities of their Generation Y employees. Earlier this year London Business School revealed the results of a five-year survey of participants from its Emerging Leaders executive education programme. The survey found that Gen Y puts work/life balance at the top of the priority list leaving promotion prospects in third place behind organisational culture.

Experts suggest one explanation for the gap is that first-time general managers are most at risk of burn-out.

Richard Jolly, Adjunct Professor of Organisational Behaviour who teaches on London Business School’s ‘Transitioning to General Management’ and ‘Leading Change’ programmes for executives, explains why the first general management role is so tough: “It’s what we call the ‘Double Crunch’. At this stage many people are starting families and first general management jobs at the same time. The demands from work and personal life have never been greater.

“Added to this, for the first time in their careers these managers can’t rely on their technical expertise. Their new 18-hour a day roles demand a different set of skills. Now their job is less about what they know, and more about how they manage and lead a team and build relationships across the organisation. It’s a demanding job. For the first time they have genuine accountability and relatively little control. And what starts as quality control, all too easily becomes exhausting micro-management.”

Jolly argues, there are two reasons for senior management to take a closer look at the way the complexities of work and personal life are handled in their companies.

“The western demographic ‘time bomb’, where a shrinking pool of talent is going to be fought over by companies, provides a real future challenge. If senior executives fail to create the sort of environment our Gen-Y talent wants to work in, they will neither attract nor retain the brightest and the best, and company performance will start to suffer. Today’s emerging leaders, especially in professional services, are looking at the life of senior partners and articulating with increasing confidence that they don’t see them as inspiring role models and that their personal lives won’t always come second to work.”

This isn’t just the effect of a bull market, Jolly explains: “What we are seeing is a genuine change in attitude of a generation determined to enjoy the journey.”

Senior executives would do well to listen to their successors Jolly adds: “While they have survived the middle management years more than 95% of senior executives I work with tell me they are ‘Hurry Sick’ – addicted to email and disillusioned with inefficient meetings. Crises after a missed promotion, redundancy or a death in the family are disturbingly common, prompting senior executives to reflect on their priorities. Realising that they have achieved everything that would make them happy, but finding they were unhappier than they had ever been is at the heart of the mid-life crisis. This pattern is not what is going to inspire the next generation of employees to join and stay loyal to an organisation.”

What can companies do about it? Well-being 360˚ reviews are a good place to start and it’s why London Business School is rolling out health diagnostics and 6-month reviews with participants on its new general management programmes for business executives.

Sam Bown, head of the School’s executive education open programmes says: “Wellness is very personal. It means something different to each of us. The key to wellness is personal objectives and a couple of basic lifestyle changes – establish what works and do more of it. This could be increasing the amount you exercise, giving yourself time to recharge or making changes to your diet. Focusing on wellbeing has tremendous benefits. You will see an increase in ability to focus, energy levels and an enhanced sense of achievement.”