Work-life balance is about boundaries and trust - insights from top CFOs

Technology has made it easier for people to work flexible hours, which should, in theory, make a work-life balance more achievable. This is, however, not the case. Most people's experience is that they’re working harder because smartphones have created a culture where your work is always with you and people are, as a result, often overworked. 12 October at Finance Indaba Africa 2017 saw Paul Marten, finance director at Microsoft, and Zaf Mahomed, CFO at McDonald’s SA, share their insights into achieving this universally coveted but ever-elusive work-life balance.

According to Zaf, work-life balance is about setting boundaries on your time and communicating this to your colleagues and team leaders. For him, having breakfast and dinner with his family is non-negotiable.

He said:

  • "My team doesn't really fuss about that because I give them the same freedom that I have. They can work whenever they want to, as long as the work gets done. In a finance team, it's pretty easy to know when someone is slacking."

Zaf added that the risk of complacency is very low in high-performing teams because of the peer pressure to deliver. "If there is someone who is not getting with the programme, they get sorted out before you, as the leader, have to get involved. That's how you know you've got a really strong team," he said.

For Paul, the most critical element in achieving a work-life balance is trust. He said: "The way I approach it is that I have conversations with every member of my team and understand their priorities personally and merge those priorities into the workplace. I think you have to have those conversations regularly. I have them weekly, sometimes bi-weekly, where we check in on this topic. I ask them, 'how's your work-life integration? Is it working or not? If not, what can we do?'...That's how you start to build the trust. And, in those discussions, you have to leave the authority at the door, because it's about having a human-to-human interaction."

Paul added that while it is easier for multinational companies to make this shift, local companies generally find it difficult because the approach to work is different here to what it is in the US, for example.