CXO

How to create work-life balance in tech: 7 tips from the C-suite

Disconnecting after work, allowing flexible schedules, and prioritizing personal events as much as work are all keys to finding a balance, tech professionals say.

The overworked tech CEO is now a cultural trope for a reason: Only 65% of tech workers said they were satisfied with their work-life balance, according to a recent survey from Comparably. This is a problem, as constant work and the resulting stress can lead to health problems such as impaired sleep, depression, diabetes, and heart disease—which not only hurt the employee, but also the company, in terms of turnover and rising health insurance costs.

Despite the pressure to be always on, finding the proper work/life balance is essential, experts say.

"It's possible to be a tech leader and to make time for taking care of yourself," said William C. Fisher, president of Quicksilver Software, Inc. "But, it takes a willingness to make that a top priority and schedule the time."

Here are seven tips from C-suite members in the tech industry on how they maintain a balance.

1. Set email expectations

Follow France's example and set limits for yourself and your staff in terms of when people should be available outside of work hours, said Mark Tuchscherer, president of Geeks Chicago.

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"In the tech world, the only way to truly achieve any kind of work/life balance is to disconnect," Tuchscherer said. "We set and encourage times to not check email or projects. For example, after 5:30 or 6:00 pm, refrain from checking your work email, and don't log into the VPN on weekends."

Jake Bennett, CTO of POP, said he sets the following expectations with his boss and colleagues about communicating after-hours: For something time sensitive, they can call his cell, but for anything else, they can send an email knowing he will answer in the morning.

"When people have to actually call you after-hours to contact you, they tend to more appropriately prioritize their 'time-sensitive' communication," Bennett said. "And by keeping work email where it belongs—at work—it allows me to truly unwind at home."

Gene Richardson, COO of Experts Exchange, said his philosophy is that work time is work time, personal time is personal time, and the two should not overlap, except in the case of an emergency. Employees in jobs that require them to be available in off-hours should be compensated appropriately, Richardson said.

"The most important thing I do everyday when I get home from work is to put my phone in the master bedroom and leave it there till the morning," said Ryan Bartlett, CEO at SEO Direct. "I've seen a noticeable difference in my relationship with my wife and kids since I started doing this. I'm present, and my head is up, not down."

SEE: Distracted minds: 3 tips to disconnect from tech and increase productivity

2. Allow for flexible schedules

Flexible hours and work from home schedules give managers and team members the flexibility needed to more smoothly balance the intersection between work and life, said Suvas Vajracharya, founder and CEO of Lightning Bolt Solutions. His employees work from home two days per week, and are in the office three days per week. "It has proven to be a nice balance that offers flexibility and also reduced commute times, but we also benefit from our time together in the office—engaging with each other in-person allows us to maintain our office culture," Vajracharya said.

Fred Schebetsa, co-founder and CEO of finder.com, says C-suite members should take advantage of the flexibility technology allows. "I think the idea of a traditional 9-5 or set blocks of time for work and play is antiquated and not conducive to productivity or creativity," he said. "Thanks to technology, we can plug into work anywhere and at anytime which enables us to be more flexible. That means we don't necessarily have to skip something personally important that might be on during the day, or wait until the next day to follow up if a great work idea strikes late at night."

3. Automate what you can

Tech leaders should seek to automate simple tasks to save time and energy, Bennett said. "Everything these days has an API or is scriptable, so I automate everything I can," he said. "This starts with our development processes. Everything we deploy is automated, which means that hours of manual labor has been replaced with the click of a button."

Bennett also recommends employing automation at a micro level, using tools like Outlook rules to manage his inbox.

"Companies should provide tools to their employees that help them maximize their work hours by automating the busy work associated with their jobs," said Mike Puterbaugh, CMO of Ziflow. "Automation is clearly a hot topic right now, so it should be top of mind for managers to consider how to harness that to make their employees' lives easier."

4. Prioritize work and personal tasks equally

GoDaddy's Chief Product Officer Steven Aldrich recommends treating personal and professional tasks with equal levels of importance. "Block off time on your calendar for your daughter's soccer game and treat it with the same preparation and sense of urgency as a team meeting," he said.

Shawn Boyer, founder and CEO of DieHappy, also recommends putting personal plans into your calendar, just as you would work events. "When someone asks you to do a meeting or a call for work, you can legitimately just say to them, 'Sorry, I already have another commitment then,'" he said. "For most of us, if it isn't on the calendar, it isn't going to happen."

SEE: Is tech killing workplace productivity?

5. Exercise regularly

"When you need to think creatively or clear your head, get up and move," said Aldrich. " A Stanford study showed that people generate 60% more creative ideas while walking."

Randy Wootton, CEO of Rocket Fuel, said that while true work/life balance is difficult for senior executives to achieve, his goal each day is to manage his energy to be fully present from morning until evening. Early morning exercise is one way to do this: "I wake up early each day to ride my bike or run before jumping into a day full of meetings," Wootton said. "This time allows me to think about what I want to accomplish that day and to wrestle with problems and/or ideas for an extended period of time. I also find the energy boost I get from exercising first thing helps fuel me through my day."

6. Take your vacation time

A recent poll conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard University found that about half of Americans who work 50+ hours per week say they don't take all or most of the vacation time they've earned. Among those who do take vacations, 30% said they do a significant amount of work while away.

Mike Beach, CEO of marketing tech agency Cardwell Beach, called this phenomenon "vacation machismo," and said that it's based in the fear of falling behind in the competitive tech industry. "It's unsustainable, it's bad for our health, our creativity and our productivity, and yes, it's ultimately detrimental to the bottom line," Beach said. "So step one: take your damn vacation days, and support your team in doing so! When your work is your whole life, both suffer."

When you do go on vacation, try to go off the grid. "With technology what it is these days, it's easier said than done, but if you're trying to relax on vacation, lounging by the pool or sunning on the beach, try to pick a spot without Wi-Fi so you're not tempted to work," said Simon Slade, CEO and co-founder of SaleHoo.

7. Make 'me time'

Protecting your "me time" is key for work/life balance, said Aldrich. "Block time on your calendar dedicated to relaxing, reading or exercise," he said. "Spend a few hours doing something you enjoy. Feel comfortable turning down events or happy hour to focus on you at least once a week."

Craig Malloy, CEO of Lifesize, agreed. "In addition to always attending my kid's activities, I find time for activities I personally enjoy," he said. "I played the piano in the past and have recently taken up lessons again. I find it is a relaxing way to take my mind away from work and use another part of my brain to focus on something creative."

Part of making "me time" means having a strong support system in place, said Maria Merce Martin, CEO of Optime Consulting. "Being a business owner of a tech company and a dedicated mother and wife, I have learned that in order to do it all, we must stop trying to control it all," she said. "Having the right support team I trust in business and personal life brings the added value needed for achieving goals."

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Image: iStockphoto/lolostock

About Alison DeNisco Rayome

Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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