Students must learn work-life balance

Former General Electric chief executive Jack Welch said at a Society for Human Resource Management conference: “There’s no such thing as a work-life balance.” Nevertheless, we are constantly trying to find a balance between our professional and personal lives.

Especially during the job-recruiting season, recruiters look for candidates who successfully manage all aspects of healthy, productive living, such as performing well academically while pursuing interesting extracurriculars.

College students need to learn how to balance their work and personal health now, regardless of what future career they choose.

Professions like law, engineering and investment banking are desired by college graduates who want well-paying, stable careers. But most of these jobs are sedentary. Many of them demand long hours in return for the high pay. Many also require significant personal sacrifices to become successful.

While still in college, we need to think about the work-life balance issues related to our future career choices.

Alexandra Michel, assistant professor of management and organization at the USC Marshall School of Business, conducted a 10-year ethnographic study of investment bankers at top-tier banks across the nation. The study, which will be published next month in the next issue of Administrative Science Quarterly, analyzes the relationship between bankers and their physical health over the course of their careers.

The study showed that complimentary convenience services offered by companies, such as free meals and car services, make it possible for all their needs to be met at work. In turn, investment bankers maintain even longer hours, which pose an even larger threat to their physical and mental health.

Michel’s research also found that most of the investment bankers were productive and energetic in the first years of being hired.But by the beginning of year four, the bankers’ bodies could not keep up. Aches, pains, colds and more serious physical ailments started to appear.

By year six of their careers, 60 percent of the study participants remained in an unhealthy physical state.

But the other 40 percent responded positively and became more sensitive to their bodies’ needs. As a result, creativity at work increased.

Michel’s research showed that these individuals were more perceptive as well — they introduced new products and improved the overall culture of the firms.

Michel’s study can be understood as a manifestation of a problem affecting not just investment banking but all careers: sacrificing one’s time and body to commit to long working hours. College students need to think critically about their choice of work environment and how they will handle that environment. Consider alternative career choices if a balance of personal life and work ranks above high pay as a career imperative.

Competitive professions are not only mentally demanding, they also take a considerable toll on one’s body.

It is essential, therefore, to take advantage of the many learning opportunities available to prepare for the coming challenges related to work-life balance.

We can find internships and mentor relationships that help us understand sooner, rather than later, how others successfully find balance in their careers.

We can only learn and better ourselves by observing those who are leaders in organizations, high achievers in the classroom and physically active all at the same time.

As college students, we should be aware of the intricacies of a work-life balance to develop the habits that are equally, if not more, important to the careers that are waiting for us in the future.


Emily Wang is a freshman majoring in business adminstration. Her column “Business Matters” runs Tuesdays.



3 replies
  1. Tom Cummings
    Tom Cummings says:

    Very good article, Emily. Well written and to the point. Recent college graduates often neglect work-life balance and assume they will somehow deal with it later in their career. But as you point out, it is better to address these issues early on and develop effective habits for balancing work life and personal life. Few companies value employees who work themselves into the ground. Indeed, a healthy work-life balance is becoming a requirement for promtion into higher-level management positions.

  2. Mitzi Weinman
    Mitzi Weinman says:

    Emily, what a great article especially as seniors are starting to look for jobs.

    It isn’t the company’s responsibility but a company that shows they care and value their employees will find that employees are more likely to care. I read an article many years ago in Entrepreneur Magazine in 1994. It was a Q&A with Hal Rosenbluth when he was CEO of Rosenbluth International. The premise of the article, based in his book “The Customer Comes Second,” is that the customer has to come second and the employee comes first. Mr. Rosenbluth calls himself a contrarian. His philosophy is that if the employees don’t feel cared for or are upset with their company, their interaction with customers, clients and other employees will not be positive which can be counter-productive. Once you remove the negatives, you have a happier employee who will approach their work with a positive attitude.

    This article and its message resonate with me even today and I have used its message when working with my clients. In reality, it is up to the individual to find balance; to approach their work with more focus on priorities, plan their day and anticipate obstacles so that they can go home at the end of the day and not necessarily take the job with them. But an employer, who supports their employees and shows that they really do care, will (in my humble opinion and from what I have witnessed through the years) comes out ahead. It becomes a matter of finding the right company, with the right fit.

    • Emily
      Emily says:

      Dear Ms. Weinman:

      Thank you for your comments and encouragement. It is always nice to hear from readers.

      The article and book mentioned in your comments sound interesting to read, and they may bring other inspirations to me as well.

      Best regards,
      Emily Wang

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