If you haven’t heard of Jack Welch, he’s the famously successful former CEO of General Electric who created a world class corporate culture that helped GE remain one of the most successful companies of all time. He retired, then flamed out when he had an affair with Suzy Wetlaufer, editor of the Harvard Business Review. Bad move, Jack.
That’s not what I want to talk about in this article, however, I just want to share his recent commentary on finding a balance between your work and family life, an excerpt that should send chills up your spine if you, or your spouse, work in Corporate America.
This excerpt is from a cover story that hawks Welch’s new book “Winning”, co-authored with his new wife, in the April 4th issue of BusinessWeek.
” If there was ever a case of “Do as I say, not as I did,” this is it. No one, myself included, would ever call me an authority on work-life balance. For 41 years, my operating principle was work hard, play hard and spend some time as a father…
“It’s clear that the balance I chose had consequences for the people around me at home and at the office. For instance, my kids were raised, largely alone, by their mother, Carolyn. And from my earliest days at GE, I used to show up at the office on Saturday mornings. Not coincidentally, my direct reports showed up too. Personally, I thought these weekend hours were a blast. We would mop up the workweek in a more relaxed way and shoot the breeze about sports. I never once asked anyone, “Is there someplace you would rather beor need to befor your family or favorite hobby or whatever?” The idea just didn’t dawn on me that anyone would want to be anywhere but at work.
“My defense, if there is one, is that those were the times. In the 1960s and ’70s, all my direct reports were men. Many of those men were fathers, and fathers were different then. They did not, by and large, attend ballet recitals on Thursday afternoons or turn down job transfers because they didn’t want to disrupt their kids’ sports “careers.” Most of their wives did not have jobs with their own competing demands. All that changed, of course.
“I have dealt with dozens of work-life balance situations and dilemmas as a manager, and hundreds more as the manager of managers. And over the past three years, I’ve heard from many peoplebosses and employeesabout the complex issue of work-life balance. I have a sense of how bosses think about the issue, whether they tell you or not. You may not like their perspective, but you have to face it. There’s lip service about work-life balance, and then there’s reality. To make the choices and take the actions that ultimately make sense for you, you need to understand that reality: your boss’s top priority is competitiveness. Of course he wants you to be happy, but only inasmuch as it helps the company win. In fact, if he is doing his job right, he is making your job so exciting that your personal life becomes a less compelling draw.
“Most bosses are perfectly willing to accommodate work-life balance challenges if you have earned it with performance. The key word here is: if.
“Bosses know that the work-life policies in the company brochure are mainly for recruiting purposes and that real work-life arrangements are negotiated one on one in the context of a supportive culture, not in the context of, “But the company says …!”
“People who publicly struggle with work-life balance problems and continually turn to the company for help get pigeonholed as ambivalent, entitled, uncommitted, incompetentor all of the above.
“Even the most accommodating bosses believe that work-life balance is your problem to solve. In fact, most know that there are really just a handful of effective strategies to do thatstaying focused on what you’re doing and saying no to demands outside your work-life balance, for exampleand they wish you would use them.”
My thoughts on this: while Jack Welch, with the help of his new wife Suzy (yes, she formerly worked at the Harvard Business Review but was terminated for her affair with a magazine interview subject) is busy trying to clean up his reputation and sound like a tough, but nice boss, the fact is he’s completely out of touch, clueless, and heartless too.
For him to enjoy working on weekends and never even think that he wasn’t around for his own kids, let alone keeping other employees away from their children, tells me that he’s completely disconnected from what’s really important in life (and, hint, it’s not making money), and even years later he says that he regrets not being more involved with his children, but still doesn’t say that he should have been aware of missing his own children’s weekends.
But here’s the scary part: Welch is someone that many executives model themselves after. So next time you go into your office and ask for a revised schedule so you can manage your family life and career, realize that this sort of attitude is what you’re up against. It reminds me why I work for myself, even when the cards aren’t coming up very well.