Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella Tells Us How He Achieves Work-Life Balance

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Written By John Hatcher
John Hatcher is a marketing consultant who has spent 13 years working with small and medium size businesses to scale growth.  He stacks business and tech experience to create unique opportunities for businesses.

Brian Smale and Microsoft [CC BY-SA 4.0]

Many people who run businesses are overworked, overstressed, and exhausted. This may, of course, seem unsurprising. Running a business is hard work and in order to retain a competitive edge, chief executives feel they have to dedicate all their time and energy into their business goals and success. Yet whether you’re a small business owner or the chief executive of a large corporation, it’s vital to try and achieve some sort of balance between your career and all of the other aspects of your life, such as time spent with friends and family, staying fit, doing hobbies, and travelling. This is known as work-life balance. It involves placing equal importance to your life outside of work. 

If you become work obsessed, on the other hand, then this might cause you to neglect your family and personal life, leaving you burnt out and suffering both physically and psychologically. Without work-life balance in place, you may become a less effective business owner in the long run. 

More and more business owners are realising the importance of work-life balance. One notable business owner who has spoken out about this is Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. In an interview for the Australian Financial Review’s Chanticleer Lunch, Nadella describes how he tries to create a healthy balance between the passion he has for his work and time spent with his family.




‘Am I really present or am I just there?’

In the interview, Nadella talks about how work-life balance isn’t just about dedicating a certain amount of time to one’s family life. To get it right, you really have to be present with what you’re doing outside of work. He remarks:

“I used to always think that…do you need to find that balance between what is considered relaxing versus what is working?…In some sense, [I’ve] reframed that equation, where what I’m trying to do is harmonize what I deeply care about, my deep interests, with my work… The one thing I do try to practice is when I’m with my kids, am I really present or am I just there? That’s a thing that I ask myself and quite frankly, you know, I fail a lot but I at least ask myself that when I am trying to do something consciously with my family, am I really prioritising it?”

Nadella goes on to comment on how giving his family life the proper attention it deserves is a crucial component of his overall happiness and drive. He said, “When I do it well, that gives me a tremendous amount of energy and satisfaction to back to even work.”


What happens when business owners neglect work-life balance

Many business owners still fall prey to the simplistic (and often harmful) notion that more hours worked translates into greater productivity and business success. This attitude comprises hustle culture, which was promoted by the business magnate Elon Musk when he said that “nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week”. Musk continued to espouse a culture of overwork by saying that to change the world you need to work “about 80 sustained” hours a week, “peaking about 100 at times”. Many other business owners share a similar mindset, even though the data shows that long hours improve neither productivity nor creativity

Instead, being a workaholic means you are more likely to neglect your family, friends, and partner, as well as time needed for relaxing, hobbies, and fitness. Sacrificing work-life balance for the sake of working long hours also makes business owners more susceptible to stress, anxiety, sleep problems, irritability, depression, and exhaustion.  


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How business owners can achieve better work-life balance 

As Nadella points out, work-life balance is about putting your focus and energy into meaningful aspects of your life that don’t involve work. In this way, even if you dedicate your time to your family, kids, hobbies, and travel, you might still be in ‘work’ mode and, in that way, not giving those things in your life the attention they deserve. As a business owner, you can ensure that you are present when spending time with friends and loved ones by avoiding checking your phone for work-related emails and messages. It’s also wise to keep travelling and vacation time free from work, which would mean not taking your laptop with you when going abroad.

If you’re a business owner and you feel that you’re neglecting your friends and family and not taking the time to look after yourself, you might want to incorporate some effective time management into your life. This could involve having set hours when you work and leaving your evenings and weekends free. Moreover, if you think you’re simply spending too many hours working, consider delegating or outsourcing some minor tasks that you’re doing but which may not need to do. Such tasks could include:

  • Bookkeeping
  • Website maintenance
  • Invoicing
  • Social media 
  • Newsletter writing
  • Paying bills
  • Booking flights, hotels, and car rentals



Delegating tasks like these to employees can help you free up time to focus on the areas of business that truly energise you, as well as allow you to spend more quality time with your friends and family. Some common reasons that business owners give for not delegating work include feeling they’re the most capable to do the work, employees not having the right skills, and being in a hurry to get the work done. However, effectively training employees can resolve these sorts of concerns. In addition, when it comes to reasons for avoiding outsourcing to other contractors and companies, a major factor for business owners is a lack of trust. But this issue could be overcome with a little strategic planning, such as creating a list of contractors and businesses that have a solid track record for completing tasks that a business owner could realistically outsource. While a business owner may not be used to delegating or outsourcing tasks and giving up control of them, getting over this hurdle is often essential for reducing work-related stress, freeing up time, and achieving work-life balance. 



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