Gan Thian Hong (far right) with his wife and children in Thailand.
Real men on maintaining work-life balance
By MICHELLE BOON
“Don’t confuse having a career with having a life.” — Hillary Clinton
In one of her articles on work-life balance, Caroline Fairchild expressed her thoughts on the general public viewing the issue as a “woman’s thing”. Nevertheless, the fact of the matter is that work-life balance is very much a man’s thing too. It was never a competition between genders.
But how many of us are aware of the responsibilities taken up by the men in our lives? Are we truly appreciative of what they do for us?
Here, two regular yet extraordinary men share their thoughts about work, family, and life, and how they have found their way of balancing just about everything.
Do you mind sharing a little bit about yourself?
Armand Yeoh Abdullah: I’m a group CEO and managing director of a healthcare group. I’m 43 this year. My oldest is a boy, and I have two girls.
Gan Thian Hong: I’m 49. I have three daughters. I run my own information technology (IT) company for about three years now. Before that, I used to work for an American-based IT company.
If you could break down an entire week, how many hours do you think you spend on work and your family?
Armand: I mean, I run my own business so I’m always working. I’d say around 60 hours a week on work. And the rest, I spend with my wife and family.
Gan: To be honest, I hardly had time for my family when I was employed. Since I have my own business, I have the flexibility to choose what time I start work. Now, I try to spend as much time as possible with my wife and girls.
Please share issues you tackle at work. How do you deal with them?
Armand: It’s tough when you’re working with clients who are international-based—each with different time zones. For me, the biggest challenge is getting calls all the time. As most of my clients call me on my mobile, I get to screen those calls.
But if it’s something urgent, then I do answer. But if it’s something I know is trivial, I will ignore those calls. Another issue is time management and workload. I make sure to leave the office by 7pm and to not check emails after 9pm.
Gan: When you work for a boss, it’s all about sales numbers, running operations, office politics. It happens to a lot of people too. For me, it was about setting my priorities straight. I realised my kids were growing up so fast and I didn’t want to miss the moments that matter. That’s when I decided to quit and do my own thing.
How do you deal with the more stressful aspects of work?
Armand: Well, stress is always there but you just have to find ways to deal with it. Personally, I believe in finding support with like-minded people. I belong to a peer group of fellow business owners.
We’d meet once a month to discuss business, personal stuff; it’s sort of like a catch-up.
You know they say, “it can be lonely at the top”, so participating in a group really helps.
Gan: Stress is there all the time. It’s important to decide what matters most. I think sharing your issues with others really helps, instead of bottling everything in and eventually exploding. Besides that, I believe in setting low expectations.
Stress comes from all angles. You just have to accept that things are tough and work on it slowly. My family and I attend a retreat in the mountains of Thailand every year, where we focus on meditation and relaxation. I appreciate that very much and it has helped a lot.
Speaking of time management, how do you allocate time for work and family?
Armand: At the office, we have flexi hours now. You choose what time to come in. So I’m up by 6:30am so I can spend a good hour with my kids before school. I’d fit in a morning workout, then hang out with my wife, just talking, and I really love that. It starts my day. Then by 10am I’m at work.
During the night, I usually spend 30 minutes to an hour for some alone time. For my job, I have to travel a lot. So, I try to schedule my trips so they won’t coincide with the school holidays. Technology helps a lot too, particularly with Skype. And of course, my planner in my tab and phone.
Gan: I try to prioritise my family and children first. I do my best and hope things work out at the end of the day.
What is your main source of support, emotionally, from work and family?
Armand: Has to be my wife, definitely. I make it a point to have time for each other. We’d go out once a week on Fridays. It’s kind of like a date night. We make it fun.
Gan: I have a very understanding wife and that is key. She has been very supportive of me leaving my job and I’m just so grateful.
Do you think there’s a certain stereotype set out for men, e.g. is it fair for men to take leave to tend to their family compared to women? How do you feel about that?
Armand: In my opinion, women don’t really face that problem. Men don’t get the same kind of response and that’s just unfortunate. I strongly believe that it is important for leaders in organisations to change the culture.
Men should be given some leeway to take care of their family without the stigma.
Gan: There is, to a certain extent. But I pay no mind to that. I do what typical housewives do—doing groceries, picking up and sending my kids to school, cooking, house chores. It’s all in the mindset I guess.
Do you have any useful hacks for the men who are currently balancing work and family?
Armand: You need to plan and manage your time efficiently. You have to treat all family and personal activities like any other important appointment. If I have an appointment at 4pm for a meeting or lunch with my family, then I make sure to go for it.
Not only that, the time you set aside for yourself is crucial. You have to put yourself in your calendar too. Last but not least, you have to learn how to say no sometimes.
Gan: That depends, this is tricky. Everyone is at a different point in their lives. To me, most importantly, you have to manage your finances and think long-term. Life is a journey, and you only have that much time. So don’t get too stressed out about things.
You just got to be optimistic. No one said that the ride was going to be easy.
If you could go back to when you were first starting a family, what advice would you give yourself?
Armand: When you are stressed out, and you’re busy, you get very short-fused. When something happened – I wish I had never reacted immediately. I wish I had waited before I responded.
When you get upset and respond, you say things you don’t really mean and you regret it after. So I just wait 30 seconds to a minute to calm down before I react, especially when dealing with my family.
Gan: That’s funny! Well, probably to always live as one family. I would focus more of my time on my wife and daughters.
Five tips on how to balance work and life:
1. Schedule in some downtime
2. Stop spending time on activities that take up too much energy
3. Re-examine your errands
4. Start moving
5. Remember to pencil in some “me” time