Why executives no longer work the '24-hour day'

Executives discuss how presentism culture is changing within organisations

Why executives no longer work the '24-hour day'

Banking and insurance executives are busy people, and a company in the middle of an acquisition means even longer hours, more pressure and less time for your family and life outside of work.

But according to the executive suite of New Zealand’s largest life insurer AIA, working culture in the 21st century is changing, and the emphasis shifting more towards balance across every corner of an organisation. This means balance and diversity in terms of gender, ethnic origin and sexuality, but it also means a healthier work-life balance for the people who have traditionally been expected to work from sunrise to sundown, far beyond their set hours.

Insurance Business, sister publication of NZ Adviser spoke to the executives at AIA who offered their thoughts on the changing landscape for those in positions of leadership, and how flexible working and health initiatives allow everyone to bring their very best, whatever form that may take.

“When we first started looking at diversity and balance, it was really focused on gender,” Chief Customer Officer Sharron Botica said.

“But it’s also really important to look at things like equity versus equality, and how we create the equity for everybody – and that comes in different forms for different people. From a work perspective, this could mean bringing different people with different skills into workplace initiatives, or just changing our ways of working.”

“It’s also very much about how you can find that time outside of work to focus on your own life, and that can be challenging,” Botica explained. “In our case, Sovereign was purchased by AIA last year so we’re heavy in an integration period, and the workloads are very full-on. So for us, it’s about trying to demonstrate to others how we can be balanced in everything we do, thinking about what we ourselves need in order to perform at our best level and doing that unapologetically.”

“We’re in the process of bringing together two companies with two different cultures and ways of working, and we’re trying to inspire the organisation for our new purpose. That’s a lot for us to deal with, both mentally and physically, so we all need to make sure that we really can perform at that best level.”

“A lot of that emphasis on balance ultimately comes down to leadership,” General Counsel and Company Secretary Kristy Redfern added.

“A lot of our own team are working mums with young families, so I’m personally very supportive of them being in the workplace and being flexible with their arrangements. We’re all trying to help Kiwis live longer, healthier and better lives, so for us that means getting out more, going for a run, and generally trying to visibly lead those kinds of behaviours.”

Chief People and Culture Officer Brynlea Hunter-Morpeth says that much of a company’s success ultimately depends on balance across all areas of the business, and the ’24 hour work day’ culture prevalent in the past is starting to give way to something healthier, and more easily sustainable.

“Organisations are ultimately more successful when there’s balance, and with us, we’re really seeing an organisation that’s diverse in terms of thought,” Hunter-Morpeth said. “The whole issue around presentism and ‘doing the hours’ has really changed in my experience, and the culture that was there when I started working in the 90s has definitely evolved over time. As an organisation, we’re focused on output and we try to be flexible in terms of how people can organise their lives to achieve those outputs.”

“I think it’s partly down to having women in the workforce over a period of time, and that has changed that paradigm of a testosterone-driven environment,” she explained. “It’s become a culture where you can go to your child’s sports day, or you can go to the gym early, and you can still be on an executive team.”

“As you have an ageing workforce, you also can’t expect them to sustain those kinds of hours. I think that society as a whole has changed, as living to work is just not healthy for anyone. Ultimately people have the expectation that they can get more from life, and the expectation now is that work will support that rather than hinder it.”

Chief Risk Officer Doune Connett says having diversity of thought really adds to the overall strength of an organisation, and that includes diversity in age. She says everyone is going to have a different need for different things within their life, and an organisation’s ability to support that will ultimately determine its success and staff loyalty.

“As executives, we are increasingly trying to live a healthier life,” Chief Strategy Officer Angela Busby concluded. “We don’t always get it 100% right, but getting time off work for things like family and personal life is very important.”