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Balancing act: CEO: Work-life balance isn't important, but getting rich is

Published: Tuesday, May 14 2013 9:00 a.m. MDT

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Since I changed my column a few years ago to focus on work-life balance issues, I've received many messages of support from readers who are trying to manage their own balancing acts.

But every now and then, I get feedback from people who think the push for building balance between work and family is just a fad or, even worse, is hurting the country and its economy.

I thought of the latter group when I ran across a recent Wall Street Journal blog post about Ivan Glasenberg, the billionaire who is CEO of Glencore Xstrata Plc, a global commodity trading and mining company.

In that blog, the 57-year-old Glasenberg told the Journal that his company is not interested in helping its employees find work-life balance.

"We work," he said. "You don't come here to take life easy. And we all got rich from it, so, you know, there's a benefit from it."

He goes on to say that the competitive culture at Glencore Xstrata is common at all levels, and that's a good thing.

“If I’m not pulling my weight and setting an example” and “traveling 80 percent of the time," he told the Journal, his employees would try to get him fired. “We’re all shareholders. These guys below me, they see the CEO taking it easy, it’s their money.”

As a result of this culture, he said, he has been through two generations of heads of trading divisions, and "every one of those heads was kicked out from below."

“I see it happening," Glasenberg told the Journal. "Some guy suddenly decides: ‘I want to take it easier, I want to spend more time with the family’ … an attack will come.”

Wow.

First of all, I'm glad I don't work at Glencore Xstrata — not that I'd be the kind of person they'd hire in the first place. I just can't imagine being part of that kind of hyper-competitive environment.

I guess it's OK if that's the kind of company they want to have. I'm sure some people enjoy that atmosphere.

However, it seems to me that their employees must spend as much time attacking co-workers and watching their backs as they do completing their actual work. I can't imagine that that's good for productivity, but if everyone is expected to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week — and if they're always worried about getting "kicked out from below" — I suppose they'd have plenty of time and incentive to work on such attacks.

Still, the attitude makes me shudder.

The most telling part of the blog, I think, was the quote in which Glasenberg said the company's culture must be successful because "we all got rich."

In other words, if your goal is to make a pile of money, maybe Glencore Xstrata or a company like that is the place for you. But if you want to spend time with your spouse or children — or if you want to have any kind of life outside of your job — you'll want to look elsewhere.

Again, I have no problem with this for people whose only goal is accumulating wealth. Different people make different choices about what's important in their lives. That's their call.

But deciding what's important to me is my call, and I come down on the side of trying to build a more balanced life.

I've had plenty of weeks, months — even years — in the past when my personal scales tipped far more toward "work" than "life."

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