High-flyers curb their ambition for better quality of life

2006

With senior executives around the world complaining that their work is encroaching ever more damagingly on their personal lives, almost nine out of 10 say that work-life balance considerations are now critical in their decision whether to join, or remain with, an employer.

A survey of 1,311 executives in the U.S., Europe and Asia-Pacific by the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC) have revealed a sea-change in the attitudes of corporate high-flyers, with a growing number rejecting long hours and the scramble up the corporate ladder in favour of better quality of life.

More than half (53 per cent) of those questioned said they have not achieved a satisfactory work-life balance and a similar proportion (46 per cent) felt that their work-life balance had changed for the worse over the past five years.

The majority of respondents were aged 35–54 and four out of 10 worked in companies with sales of over $1 billion.

Compounding these work-life woes, six out of 10 complained that technologies such as the BlackBerry and mobile phone are further eroding the boundaries between work and personal life.

But whereas previous generations of executives have tended to accept long hours as the price of success, almost six out of 10 (56 per cent) of the current generation said that they would strongly consider refusing a promotion if it negatively affected their work-life balance.

Half have also considered taking a sabbatical, although eight out of 10 said their companies did not allow this.

The AESC findings confirm a trend noted last year in a global study by Burson-Marsteller and the Economist Intelligence Unit which found that more than half of senior business figures around the world would turn down the chance to be a CEO - with the impact of the role on their work-life balance the major reason for shunning the top job.

Aileen Taylor, AESC member and Managing Director of Eric Salmon & Partners Limited, said that she had noticed a growing number of senior FMCG executives looking for jobs in companies where the number of hours worked and location mobility were not the only ways to achieve career progression.

"Particularly in the marketing field, these individuals feel they cannot continue to give their best work under these extended hours regimes," she said.

"For the first time in twenty plus years in the personal care market place, I am seeing candidates prepared to down-size both their salaries and their prospects within large organisations in favour of quality of life."

Peter Felix, President of the Association of Executive Search Consultants, said that the findings should be a wake-up call to every employer that the values gap between them and their executives is widening.

"Top senior executives are hard to come by, and this survey suggests that executives are beginning to carefully measure the cost of their personal lives against the value of their professional goals," he said.

"The balance of power between employers and senior executives has shifted with the executive now in the driver's seat. Employers need to be more creative and nimble in today's market and some negotiating tactics may include being more sensitive to candidate work-life balance needs. If employers do not listen, their competitors surely will."