5 Work Life Balance Truths for Every Businesswoman

Posted March 14, 2013 by Kristen J. Zavo in On the Ladder


Beginning with Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer putting the kibosh on work-from-home arrangements, the last couple weeks have been full of debate surrounding work life balance for businesswomen.  Last weekend, the NY Times ran an essay by Erin Callan, former Lehman Brothers CFO.  In the article, Ms. Callan paints a picture of what her life was like as a successful career woman.  It’s not a surprise that it was all about work, and that her job took top priority above her spouse, family and friends.

Here are my takeaways:

1) Just because someone does not have children doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a life outside of work, or that she is less worthy of, or in need of balance.  Whether our home life includes soccer games and PTA meetings or dinner dates and spin sessions with friends, it is equally important for everyone to have an active life outside of work.

2) Know what is important to you and set your boundaries.  It is easy for a couple hours of Sunday night prep to turn into working 7 days a week.  There will be weeks, even months where work will need more attention than usual.  But allowing an all-consuming workload to become the norm takes a toll on your relationships, health and peace of mind.  That is a high price to pay.  And when you realize what you have lost, it might be too late.

3) Don’t let your job define you.  This is a particularly tough one, because we live in a culture where one of the first questions we ask a person we’ve just met is “What do you do?”  It is easy to define yourself by your job, but hopefully you are much more than that – a friend, a daughter, a mother, an awesome cook, an animal lover….. If you allow your job to define you, if you suddenly find it gone, what do you have left?

4) You don’t have to work around the clock to be successful.  The law of diminishing returns definitely applies here.  Ever work a 15-hour day, for days, even weeks on end?  Think back as to how efficient you were while you were living on caffeine and a few hours of sleep.  I would bet that you were not performing at your best.  Taking a break and spending some time away from work is healthy for both you and your company.

5) Sometimes when the worst happens, it is the best thing for you.  At the end of the article, Ms. Callan muses as to whether she would have ever gotten off the corporate treadmill had Lehman not collapsed.  While it was a tragedy at the time, her stepping down from the position of CFO forced her to re-evaluate her life and priorities.

All of the above is easier said than done.  When you find yourself wondering if you are giving up too much of yourself for your career, it might help to think of the famous words of Rabbi Kushner: “In all my years of counseling those near death,

I’ve yet to hear anyone say they wish they had spent more time at the office.

About the Author

Kristen J. Zavo

Kristen J. Zavo is a product development, strategy and innovation professional, with a special interest in the retail industry. Having always been interested in the people side of business, Kristen loves to explore, reflect on, and share stories about the challenges and adventures of being a businesswoman. No topic is off limits - whether it's how to handle being the only woman in the boardroom, or figuring out how to to pack all the "essentials" for a 2-week business trip in just a carry-on! Outside of work, she loves exploring new places, spending time at the beach and meeting friends to workout (spin or yoga, anyone?!).



    AMEN TO #1. This actually made me sigh out of relief that finally I have read somewhere else what I’ve been thinking and feeling for so long. There’s a lot of working women with families at my firm and there’s also a lot of unacknowledged pitting of women with families against us without them (or who do don’t plan on them). It’s OK to leave early to make a child’s soccer game but it’s not ok to leave 15 minutes early to make a Yoga class once a week. It’s sad and unfair and so far from the support that women in the workplace should be providing each other. Anyways, thanks for this post. I really enjoyed it and look forward to sharing it with some of my friends and co-workers.

      Kristen J. Zavo

      Thanks, Eileen – you make some great points! While I am glad that you can relate, the fact that you do says something about how much further we have to go in the workplace!


        That is very true indeed. But, I feel lucky that these conversations are even being had – that’s a start. 🙂

        Worth noting that at my firm, it’s not so much management (and especially not the men) but women that impose these barriers and judgements on eachother. I’d like to see more support of women by women at my work. Lately, I’ve been thinking about starting a Women in the Workplace group. This might be the final push I needed!

    Kristen J. Zavo

    Yes! As the saying goes… Be the change you want to see!

    Many of today’s successful women began by starting women’s groups at their companies when they saw a need. I recently saw an interview with HSN CEO, Mindy Grossman on CNBC, where she said she did just that at Nike (min 3:15). And now HSN is a launch partner in Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In community, where women support other women.



    Echoing what Eileen said above- #1 is unfortunately incredibly relatable. It often feels like people assume that because employees are young and may not have children, they must be available to work at any time and have no legitimate reason for flexible hours or other benefits afforded to women with families. I would love to see the definitely of flexibility expand to encompass men and women regardless of a manager’s assumptions about their lives outside of work. Respecting employees’ time and allowing them to have completely separate lives outside of work (without requiring an explanation or asking questions) helps create a more positive environment for everyone in the workplace. It’s unfortunate that it’s often women imposing these assumptions on other women. Kristen, I’d love to see more posts from you on how to create a supportive culture in the workplace that respects work/life balance! Thanks for the great post.

      Kristen J. Zavo

      Thanks for your comments, Alicia! There are many reasons a woman might not have children, and one of them which you bring up is as simple as youth – she just might not be at the point in life where she is even thinking about it yet.

      If younger businesswomen aren’t given the same amount of flexibility as their older counterparts with families, there could be additional reasons beyond the lack of kids. These include the belief that they should pay their dues and put in the time to really learn the business and show their commitment. Ideas about what makes a workplace an effective and positive environment can be very different between generations. I think this is a great topic to explore further, what do you think?


        Great point about the idea of paying dues and putting in more time at the beginning of one’s career when there is a steeper learning curve. It’s absolutely vital to prove to your team that you take your work seriously in order to earn their trust and the flexibility/understanding that hopefully come with it. Sometimes I get riled up about issues like these before examining all of the other factors at play!

        Generational differences in the workplace are so interesting. I attended a presentation a few years ago in which the HR director of a large law firm talked about the values, communication preferences, and habits that tend to be associated with different generations. Of course not everyone fits these stereotypes, but it was really helpful to learn more about adapting my communication style to work better with people from a variety of backgrounds and career experiences.


    Kristen – I too was really taken by Erin Callan’s article. This isn’t just a women’s issue – men can find their identity wrapped up in the company as well.

    I call it corporate idolatry – the company becomes the most important thing in your life, and is put above all that we hold dear.

    When this article was first published, I was just finishing my serial book, and I incorporated Erin Callan’s story in the conclusion. If you are interested, you can find it here. http://idolbuster.com/archives/2715

      Kristen J. Zavo

      Greg, thanks for your comments.

      I agree that balance is an issue that both men and women struggle with, and it’s great to see that both genders are beginning to speak honestly about it.

      It’s important to remember that you are always in control – of your life and the choices you make. As you say, if you ever find that you don’t like who or what gets most of your attention, “it’s never too late to shift your focus.”


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