Jack Welch: There is No Work-Life Balance, Only Work-Life Choices

8 years ago

Former General Electric Co. CEO Jack Welch left women shaking their heads at the Society for Human Resource Management's annual conference when he said:

"There's no such thing as work-life balance," Mr. Welch told the Society for Human Resource Management's annual conference in New Orleans on June 28. "There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences."

The resulting Wall Street Journal Article "Welch: 'No Such Thing as Work-Life Balance'" was one of the most popular articles on the WSJ site this week and is whipping this conversation back into a frenzy.

Now I've written about finding balance in your life and business and the fact that balance is a myth but aligning your choices with your values is a better approach. Yet it is a bit jaw-dropping to read the WSJ article and the general bluntness of Mr. Welch basically saying that if you're not around in the clutch constantly that you're a second rate talent headed for a second-tier career. While that is my paraphrasing, his exact words were:

"We'd love to have more women moving up faster," Mr. Welch said. "But they've got to make the tough choices and know the consequences of each one."

Taking time off for family "can offer a nice life," Mr. Welch said, "but the chances of going to the top on that path" are smaller. "That doesn't mean you can't have a nice career," he added.

While I don't have kids, I know that when I worked in corporate, comments like this made me insane with rage (well they still do). The audacity that human beings have to choose between a well-lived life and a successful career seems a little barbaric here in 2009. If we're so bright, developed all these technological advances that allow us to work from about anywhere, and are supposed to be innovating in a Dan-Pink-Whole-New-Mind-Way, someone tell me again why women need to cling in fear and worry about face-time every time they need to make a choice about how to spend their time?

Of course it isn't the least bit ironic that Welch's comments coincide with the buzz around his wife, Suzy Welch's new bestselling book "10 10 10". I recently read the book and wrote about it the book as a great decision making tool if you want to be certain your decisions are serving what you really want from your life and career.

The Welch Way has an article written by both Jack and Suzy (originally appeared in Business Week) that addresses their take on work-life balance:

But feeling swamped is really just a default mechanism: It’s what occurs when you don’t face what “achieving work-life balance” really comes down to, which is making choices and living with their consequences. In fact, we would even vote to retire the term “work-life balance” and replace it with “work-life choices.”

I have to agree personally that the distinction between balance and choices is a good one. Different choices work for different folks. The Welch's say as much further into the article:

Balance, we’re saying, is a personal choice based on what feels right to you given what you want from life personally and professionally. With that choice comes consequences. When you choose to work 80 hours a week and you have a family, you’re also choosing to give up some level of intimacy with your spouse and children. When you choose to work 35 hours a week in order to see more of them, you’re also choosing to take yourself off the fast track to senior management. There’s no right or wrong here. There are just individual choices and their trade-offs.

That being said it is still confounding to think that there isn't some way to shift the damn paradigm already when it comes to how companies operate and what choices are available to talented people who want a great career AND a life. This comment in the WSJ is spot on in terms of the issue that employers need to make a shift as well.

Alice G. Lindenauer, head of workforce development, planning and strategy for SEI Investments Co., says Mr. Welch's "old-fashioned" views prompted head-shaking among conference attendees, most of whom were women. She thinks employers, rather than employees, need to be more flexible to accommodate an increasingly diverse workforce with varying priorities.

In 2007 when I attended the PA Governor's Conference for Women, Pepsico's Indra Nooyi spoke to the crowd. She talked about her tough choices along the way but also stressed the importance of her employees being able to bring their whole self to the office as well as have flexibility to handle their personal lives in a way that works for them. This was a woman who clearly wanted to be a good mother and an excellent Chairman and CEO and set up support systems in her life to allow her to do both. She might not be the mother who can attend every single event for her children, but she insists on being there for them daily even if it needs to be long-distance sometimes.

Women have a lot to say about Mr. Welch's comments and rightly so. They push all our emotional hot buttons one way or another because our precious time here on the planet is, well, personal. Check out these excellent posts on the matter:

As Andrew Leonard's post points out clearly, this is not just a womans' issue. It is a human issue:

Of course we all make choices with consequences as we go about crafting our careers and balancing them with other priorities in our lives. But to interpret Welch's words as a harsh message for women is to miss his real point. Denying that there is a possibility for a "work-life balance" is a bummer for the entire human race.

Indeed -- a workplace that doesn't respect people and the human-ness that goes along with it is not very good for anyone, now is it?!

What is your take on Welch's comments and work-life choices?

Paula Gregorowicz, owner of The Paula G. Company, offers life and business coaching for women to help you gain the clarity, confidence, and courage you need to succeed on your own terms. Get the free eCourse "5 Steps to Turn Fear Into Freedom" at her website

Get the latest word on personal finances from an LGBT perspective and Paula's practical coach approach to the topic at Queercents http://www.queercents.com.


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