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Jack Welch And The Work-Life Balance

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“There’s no such thing as work-life balance,” according to Jack Welch, one of the most admired CEO’s of the 20th century.

Recently, he told the Society for Human Resource Management’s annual conference that “there are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences.”

It set off alarms among HR professionals and a swarm of angry chatter on the blogosphere. Needless to say, many female executives were irritated by the comment, but some conceded that ol’ Neutron Jack had a point.

Theoretically, he was making a fairly obvious point. There is a finite number of hours in the day, days in the week, weeks in the year and years in the life of any careerist. Furthermore, no matter the size of the company and no matter the industry, any executive could work 24/7/52 and still not get everything done.

Jack Welch
AP
Jack Welch

And in some ways, this is truer today than in the prior century when Jack was still running GE since the workforce has shrunk dramatically in the past few months. That means more challenges to answer and fewer execs to shoulder the rock. GE is the parent company of CNBC.

I think it’s the first part of that much-quoted sentence that raised hackles: “no such thing as work-life balance.” Taken alone, those words ring false in most companies today. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 enforces a certain work-life balance in U.S. companies – and some, including GE, have gone beyond FMLA to provide opportunities and benefits to workers (including execs) to embrace life.

The second part about choices and their consequences is surely true. If one’s company permits an unpaid sabbatical, or family leave time beyond FMLA requirements, or summer hours, or work-at-home opportunities, that’s a terrific opportunity to take advantage of some work-life balance. But having made that choice, it would seem to be inevitable that the choice made might have some consequences, especially for managers and executives.

There are subtle aspects to getting ahead as an exec that fall outside the technicalities of the law and inside the boundaries of good old fashioned climbing. If you are not working, it is hard to be helping your boss. If you are not at the office, it’s hard to lead those who are. And if you’re not available to colleagues 24/7, it’s going to be hard to get that next promotion.

What do YOU think?

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Erik Sorenson is CEO of Vault, the Web’s most comprehensive resource for career management and job search intelligence. Vault provides top talent with the insider information they need to make critical career decisions. An Emmy award-winning media industry veteran, Erik served as president of the MSNBC cable news channel through 2004. His experience spans radio, local and network broadcast television, cable and syndicated TV, and the Web.

Comments? Send them to executivecareers@cnbc.com