Work-Life Balance: A Leaders’ Role in Modelling Balance

Mar 5, 2019 | Leadership

Too much work, not enough rest or play? I have come to realize that this seems to be more common than not for many people. We seem to be in an endless pursuit of work-life balance.


A few months ago, I was honoured to be a keynote speaker at the Fraser Valley Lean In event. Originally, when asked to present, I was prepared to discuss topics that both Sheryl Sandberg often shared in her book “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead” and topics in my training repertoire – mentoring, coaching and feedback. However, I soon discovered that the ask was for me to present on my personal story – my journey of deliberately changing the way in which I chose to live my life. My hope in sharing this story, was to spark a change in the way in which people chose to balance their life and put themselves back on their list.


This topic around work-life balance, has once again come to the forefront after reading Brené Brown’s book “Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts”.  In this book, she discusses the importance of vulnerability and authenticity in leadership. She highlights key distinctions between ‘armoured leadership’ vs. ‘daring leadership’. One of these distinctions is:


Armoured Leadership:

Rewarding exhaustion as a status symbol, and attaching productivity to self-worth


Daring Leadership:

Modeling and supporting rest, play, and recovery


“When worthiness is a function of productivity, we lose the ability to pump the brakes.”

Brené Brown


I couldn’t agree more. When leaders and the culture of an organization promote work at the expense of downtime, play and recovery, this leads to an unsustainable expectation of performance standards. When the mentality of “Go, go, go!” is modelled, expected and demanded, the result is exhaustion and burn-out, and has a detrimental impact on performance/work outputs. Burn-out hinders our ability to produce quality work, think creatively and innovate.


Speaking from personal experience, when operating in a work environment that linked over-working and exhaustion to top performers worthy of promotion, it became increasingly more difficult to pump the brakes. So, reality became working 80+ hours per week and every minute of my day revolved around work. The more I worked, the greater the rewards. But at what expense? It ultimately came at the expense of my health and cherished family time. I soon realized that time is non-refundable and I made a decision to begin to use it with intention.


Modelling Balance, Rest, Play and Recovery


In my personal experience, the behaviours that leaders modelled that spoke volumes to the value they placed on a work hard, no play approach to life was:

  • Leaders staying at work well beyond 5 pm, often working into the late evening and weekends
  • Leaders sending and answering emails at all hours of the day/night
  • Leaders expecting employees to be on-call during off hours, including responding to emails and picking up calls
  • Leaders praising and rewarding those who worked around the clock and openly pegging those who worked the conventional 9-5 pm as low performers
  • Leaders placing unrealistic expectations and project timelines on their team, demanding nothing less than completion and quality
  • Leaders saying yes to more and more projects because they viewed their willingness to take these on as a status symbol, despite the impact on the team having to carry out the projects


So, how can leaders walk the talk? Many organizations have work-life balance as a core value, but living and breathing this value is so important to build a culture around work hard, play hard. Some behaviours leaders can exhibit could include:

  • Leaders keeping work at work, not answering emails or phone calls at all times of day
  • Leaders encouraging their staff to leave work on time
  • Leaders encouraging their staff to take time off to spend it on rest, play and family
  • Leaders focusing performance measures on quality of work, rather than hours invested in the office


Ultimately, we have choices and so making the choice to bring about more balance can be done. I don’t believe in a perfect work-life balance. However, making a conscious effort to bring about your ideal balance to work, relationships and you is important. Enjoy work and enjoy life!



“Play shapes our brain, fosters empathy, helps us navigate complex social groups, and is at the core of creativity and innovation.”

Brené Brown



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Sofia Arisheh, Principal & Lead HR Consultant



Sofia Arisheh

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