How Executives Around The World Balance Their Personal And Professional Lives

New research from Harvard Business School suggests executives who make deliberate choices experience satisfaction in both their personal and professional lives.

How Executives Around The World Balance Their Personal And Professional Lives
[Image: Flickr user Mark Ramsay]

The search for work-life balance is a topic of great interest, as evidenced by the 347 million Google search results and more than 18,000 books on on the topic. But how does one achieve it?


Two Harvard University researchers, Boris Groysberg, a professor of business administration specializing in organizational behavior, and Robin Abrahams, a research associate at Harvard Business School, spent five years researching this topic among executives. Their findings were published in the March 2014 issue of the Harvard Business Review.

Harvard Business School students interviewed 3,850 C-suite executives from around the world over a five-year period, and the article’s authors surveyed 82 executives who participated in a Harvard Business School leadership course.

Here are some key findings:

Defining Success

Success means different things to different people, and one’s definition of success may change over time. Researchers found that female executives valued individual achievement, making a difference, having passion for their work, and receiving respect from others more than their male counterparts. On the other hand, male executives ranked financial success and learning/personal growth higher than female executives. Both male and female executives highly valued rewarding relationships.

Managing Technology

“Deciding when, where, and how to be accessible for work is an ongoing challenge, particularly for executives with families,” the authors found. Trying to be in two places at once and not giving either your undivided attention can lead to confusion and mistakes, one executive said. Some executives noted the importance of knowing when to use the phone and when to have a face-to-face conversation. (For example, broadcasting information and other one-way communication is fine for the phone, but there’s no substitute for face time when negotiating or building relationships.)

Another common concern was technology burnout–always being accessible and online can prevent insights that may occur to you when you’re doing something else. “Certain cognitive processes happen when you step away from the frenetic responding to e-mails,” one executive said. And, the authors note, “The history of science…is marked by insights that occurred not in the laboratory but while the scientist was engaged in a mundane task, or even asleep.”


Create a Support Team

Whether it’s having help at home (childcare, cooking) or a confidant to provide perspective or a sympathetic ear, executives reported that having a strong network of supporters both at work and at home is critical to maintaining a healthy professional and personal life. Life happens, people (and parents) get sick, and the best laid plans can be upended in a split second. Respondents reported having understanding colleagues and mentors helped them get through the tough times and get back on track.

Hat tip: Harvard Business Review

About the author

Lindsay LaVine is a Chicago-based business and lifestyle freelance writer who's worked for NBC and CNN. Her work has appeared online in,,, NBC News, MSNBC, Yahoo, Business Insider, and Fox Business.