Adnan Zai Discusses Work-Life Balance

Adnan Zai, Advisor to Berkeley Capital located in Beachwood, has an intense job that has him working at all hours of the day and night, spanning two continents. But he also realizes that there is more to life than just work. From meditation to exercise, spending quality time with his three children to reading, he makes it a point to live a balanced life. We sat down with him recently to discuss the notion of work-life balance and what that looks like in this modern world.

Mary Kraven: As the old saying goes, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” If there is one positive that the pandemic left us with, it is the notion of the need for better work-life balance. When workers were sent home to work in March 2020, they realized that it was nice to throw in a load of laundry at lunch, or to cut out the stressful morning commute, in order to have more time for their families.  You have a high-powered, stressful job. What exactly do you think people mean when they talk about work-life balance?

Adnan Zai: Well there is no perfect work-life balance, and the notion will be different for everyone. At its core, work-life balance means that your career doesn’t consume you, but that you have time for family and friends, as well as self-care and the pursuit of projects and interests that you care about. This is something that Europeans have always done better with, but the pandemic pushed the envelope in America and showed more employees what work-life balance could be like.

Mary Kraven: According to the BBC, “In 2021, data from a survey of more than 9,000 UK workers showed 65% of job seekers prioritized work-life balance over pay and benefits. It’s similar in the US: of 4,000 respondents to the FlexJobs 2022 Career Pulse Survey, 63% said they’d choose work-life balance over better pay.” Why do you think this is so important to employees?

Adnan Zai: There is just so much more to life than work, and with the growth in social media, employees can see what they are missing out on. The YOLO generation is changing the game with their mantra of “You only live once.” At the end of the day, you can be replaced at your job, but you cannot make up for lost time with family and friends.

Mary Kraven: That is a very true statement. When did people first talk about work-life balance?

Adnan Zai: Well in the early days of the 20th century workers worked horrible hours under terrible conditions and unions fought for the eight-hour workday. This was the beginning. Things were moving along well for a while, but then we all got a phone in our hands, and work-life balance took a turn for the worse.

Mary Kraven: Yes, that is a very good point. The phones keep us connected 24/7. Ioana Lupu, associate professor of accounting and management at Paris’ ESSEC Business School, says “It happened at first when they all got Blackberries. Before, of course, you could get a phone call, but most of the time you couldn’t necessarily access your work files or anything, so it was more difficult to take work home. Now people were reachable at all times – during the holidays, during weekends with the family.”

She goes on to say that the happiest professionals she speaks to manage to “compartmentalize, to disconnect, to switch off without guilt from work”.

Adnan Zai: Exactly. Now people can work from anywhere at all hours of the day and night. This is certainly not conducive to a work-life balance. And I agree that you need to compartmentalize and truly take time for yourself outside of the office to be happy and productive.

Mary Kraven: Ensuring that workers have work-life balance is better for the business as well. If workers are satisfied, they will work harder, be less prone to burnout, and create better products and happier customers.

Chris Chancey, career expert and CEO of Amplio Recruiting said, “Employers who are committed to providing environments that support work-life balance for their employees can save on costs, experience fewer cases of absenteeism, and enjoy a more loyal and productive workforce,” said Chancey. When employees offer flexible work schedules or other perks like telecommuting, employees often can experience a better work-life balance.

Hank Jackson, president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, seconds that notion, saying “As we look ahead, it is clear that in order to remain competitive, employers must find ways to offer flexible work options if they want to attract and retain top talent.”

Adnan Zai: Yes, that is a win-win situation for the employee and employer. Flexible work options are good for business and good for the employees. Flexibility can pay off for employers in the long run.

Mary Kraven: This issue of work-life balance is far-reaching. It was a major player in the Great Resignation, and more than 50 million people left their jobs in 2022 in the U.S. alone. Data from Microsoft’s 2022 Work Trend Index Annual Report showed more than half of Millennial and Gen Z workers who quit cited either lack of work-life balance or lack of flexibility as the reason.

Adnan Zai: People are waking up to the idea that life is short, and work is not everything. There is definitely a shift in thinking.

Mary Kraven: You mentioned earlier that Europeans appreciate work-life balance even more. Can you elaborate on that?

Adnan Zai: Let’s look at France as an example. Rather than the 40-hour work week in America, they favor a 35-hour work week. Additionally, they get 5 weeks of vacation and they take it, unlike here where people feel guilty when they use PTO. This past April, President Emmanuel Macron tried to change the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64, and the French revolted. The trains stopped running, the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower closed, the garbage collectors stopped working, and there was chaos in the streets, with protestors starting fires and thousands of police called in.

Mary Kraven: Yes it certainly sounds like they take their time off seriously. It seems like U.S. employees may be moving toward this notion as well. Can you give us some advice as to some ways that employees can seek more work-life balance?

Adnan Zai: Every worker needs to take control of his or her own well-being. No employer is going to do that for them. To this end, set your own goals and work hard to meet them. Be willing to take breaks, which will make you more efficient as a worker. When you are at home, choose to unplug, or to create specific time frames for your phone, rather than being on all day or endlessly scrolling or plugged into work.

Another part of the equation that people sometimes forget is that they need to take care of themselves. Eat right, get enough sleep, and choose some form of exercise to move your body. This will ensure your overall well-being, and make you a better employee.

Mary Kraven: Thank you so much for your insights, Adnan Zai. We hope the coming week is filled with work-life balance for you!