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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

 (Shutterstock) (Shutterstock)

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."

For example, when I was a full-time journalist, I knew the job would require me to spend nights, weekends and holidays away from my family. That worked for me for quite a while. Being a reporter and editor was a huge part of my personal identity, and it was what I was trained to do. I figured the sacrifice of family time was just part of the deal.

But as my children grew older — and so did I — I started to re-evaluate my priorities. That's what led me to change careers a couple of years ago. Now I have nights, weekends and holidays with my family, and I know without a doubt that I've made the right choice.

I should be clear that my work ethic hasn't changed. I am dedicated to my job and my employer, and I try to give 100 percent of my effort and attention to the tasks at hand each and every day.

However, I'm glad that I don't have to spend time and energy worrying about competing with other managers, or trying to attack them and bring them down. I don't have the temperament for that kind of thing, and I can't imagine the stress it would cause.

I'm stressed enough these days just trying to complete my daily work and leave the office on time so I can get to all of my children's end-of-the-year school concerts, programs and sporting events while also finishing my jobs around the house.

I may never get rich on my current career path. In fact, I tell my wife that I'm unlikely ever to earn enough money to give her and our children all of the "stuff" I'd like to provide.

But what I will give them, to the best of my ability, is my time, my attention and my loving concern. If, in Mr. Glasenberg's mind, that means I'm taking life easy, so be it. I'm completely comfortable with my decision, just as I assume he is completely comfortable with his.

What do you think of the competitive nature of Glencore Xstrata? Have you ever worked at a company with that kind of culture? What kind of experience did you have there? Or, have you worked at such a company and left for a more family-friendly environment?

Please share your opinions, and I'll revisit this issue in a future column.

Email your comments to kratzbalancingact@gmail.com or post them online at deseretnews.com. Follow me on Twitter at gkratzbalancing or on Facebook on my journalist page.

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