Last fall’s public meltdown of Elon Musk has brought renewed attention to the lives of business leaders. Musk works 80-90 hours a week, spends little time sleeping, and is practically a stranger to his children. If Musk were a scale, things would be so skewed to one side that most people would consider it broken.
A Harvard Business Review study tracked 27 CEOs over the period of 3 months to get a better look into the dynamics of leadership. The executive assistants for these leaders assisted in the process, logging exactly how the leaders spent their days.
The average leader worked 9.7 hours each weekday, while also putting in 4 hours on Saturdays and Sundays. Vacation days were slightly less demanding, with the leaders putting in 2.5 hours per day. Added up, this meant they averaged 62.5 hours of work each week.
During that time, they spent just 6% of their time with their rank-and-file employees. And only 3% of their time was dedicated to customers. A larger chunk of time, nearly 30%, was spent working alone. About half of the total work time took place outside the office, usually for meeting partners, investors, or working solo from other locations.
Assuming these CEOs were getting 8 hours of sleep each night and had a commute close to the national average of 26 minutes, that would leave about 6 hours per workday to shower, get dressed, eat meals, catch up on the news, take care of any other needs, and spend time with family and friends.
Therein lies the rub. When business leaders are stretched to the max by responsibilities, home life is often the first area to suffer. According to the Harvard Business Review, the only way for business leaders to avoid the pitfalls of an unbalanced life is to commit to 3 different relationships:
“What we see — our role models — shape what we think is possible,” says the article. “And right now, so many of us are stuck in the workplace overworking because that’s all we see in our leaders. So perhaps, if we are to change, what we need are fewer breathless articles about inhuman and insane CEO schedules that ignore the costs to health, families, and ultimately, innovation and business productivity.”
Imagine if every leader ate dinner with his or her family and got a full night’s sleep. While the precise results would vary, the overall trend would be happier, healthier leaders who are better able to handle stress.
The results at work would certainly shine. Research shared by Entrepreneur.com suggests that sleep deprivation causes entrepreneurs to be more irritable and quicker to fly off the handle. Additional research from the University of Pennsylvania reveals that when your sleep is inadequate, you’re also more prone to stress and sadness, less creative, and can suffer from poor judgment.
The bad news is more than 40% of business leaders are getting less than 6 hours of sleep each night. The good news is the research from the University of Pennsylvania indicated that once you manage your time and get back to sleeping at least 7 hours a night, these negative impacts are greatly reduced. Your body will bounce back quicker than you might imagine.
“So how can we turn this knowledge into sustained behavior change?” asks Christopher M. Barnes in the Harvard Business Review. “A first step for sleep-deprived leaders is to come to terms with just how damaging your fatigue can be — not only to you but also to those who work for you. Next, follow some simple, practical, research-backed advice to ensure that you get better rest, perform to your potential, and bring out the best in the people around you.”
While the effects of sleep deprivation and an unbalanced life are something that anyone should beware of, business leaders are particularly at risk. Due to their oversized responsibilities and position of authority, any struggles they have can cascade throughout their organization.
The bottom line is when a leader’s life is severely out of whack, they’re a liability to their company and family. What matters is they pay attention to red flags. And, because we’re often blind to issues relating to ourselves, it’s not a bad idea for leaders to ask those closest to them for their honest opinion of how they’re doing with work/life balance.
Research shows even small improvements can yield meaningful results. So it’s crucial to make time for sleeping, eating, decompressing, and enjoying your family. Not only will these changes bring more harmony and happiness at home, but they’ll bring quality, success, and improved morale in the workplace.