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Balancing act: Can a business be financially successful and worker-friendly?

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Can a business be financially successful and still promote work-life balance for its employees? Should a business owner even try to achieve both goals?

Such were the questions raised in my mind when reading the reactions to my column last month about Ivan Glasenberg, the billionaire CEO of global commodity trading and mining company Glencore Xstrata Plc.

Glasenberg told The Wall Street Journal that his company is not interested in helping employees find work-life balance. "We work," he said in a WSJ blog post. "You don't come here to take life easy. And we all got rich from it, so, you know, there's a benefit from it."

He also described the ultra-competitive culture at his company, saying it was a good thing.

I wrote at the time that I'm more concerned with finding a good balance between my work and home responsibilities than with spending all of my time at work trying to accumulate wealth. Several readers agreed with me.

One reader, Skyler, sent me an email to say he liked the points I was making.

"I think that making loads of money and working long hours are not synonymous," he wrote. "Smarter, not harder."

Another reader, Dave, said he agreed with me, to a point.

"I think you have some points, but too often people have (zero) work ethic and use 'work-life balance' as an excuse," Dave wrote in an email. "The 20-year-olds I work with, especially. I've been extremely successful at my career working my butt off, but spending a lot of time with my family as well."

That's the ideal, Dave. I'm glad you've found success in all aspects of life. There may be some generational aspects to this topic, and I'd like to get input from younger workers on whether they feel that is the case.

Another reader, also named David, wrote in an email that he agreed with my take on the issue. He is a 62-year-old father and grandfather who is still working full time, he wrote, and he has never held a management position.

"I had a manager years ago that came to work for us from back East," David wrote. "He was working as a regional sales manager. He was away from home for about 20 days a month. After some time of this his wife says, 'I can't raise these children alone. Make your choice: your job or your family.'

"He chose his family (and) came back to Utah to work. I am sure it was for a lot less money, but it was fewer hours and more time at home. No job to me is worth working a 10-hour day, week after week, month after month. … We need more managers with more heart."

Thanks for sharing that story, David. I definitely agree with your last point.

Several readers took the debate in a different direction in comments posted to the original column online.

One reader wrote that he could understand Glasenberg's point of view.

"The job of any company isn't to help its employees find a work-life balance. Their purpose is to make money," he wrote. "YOU are in charge of YOUR happiness, including work-life balance. You can still work very hard, make lots of money and still have a work-life balance to YOUR liking.

"I agree with this CEO. Also, if you haven't ever started or owned your own business, you will never see his point."

Several other readers took issue with that reader's comments.

"Recent research has led to a new wisdom that profits for a company don't come just from making loyal customers, but from happy employees as well," wrote one person in response. "Unhappy employees lead to organization turmoil, turnover, etc., which make it hard to serve customers.

"Companies with bad employee relations lose talented employees, and many model companies, from Southwest Airlines to Google, demonstrate that a focus on 'keeping the talent happy' is central to their overall success. … Unhappy workers and turnover actually drive up costs and reduce profits."

Another reader was even more direct.

"Hey go for it. I'm sure there are lots of companies that will be happy to have you work 13+ hours a day, 6 or 7 days every week," read this comment. "If this (is) the kind of life that is fulfilling to you, more power to you.

"Don't be surprised, however, if your wife has a different perspective and values quality of life and divorces you out of loneliness and takes half of what you have earned. Don't be surprised, either, if after you burn yourself out your company shows you the door."

Still another comment proposed that work-life balance proponents are actually jealous of "workaholics."

"The 'work-life balance' crowd seem to know they can't really complain about people who want to work more, but are bitter that the 'workaholics' are more likely to get promotions, raises, incentives, etc.," this reader posted. "The 'work-life balance' people try to imply that the workaholics must somehow be losing out, in health, happiness or personal relationships, because the non-workaholics know they are losing out on career advancement.

"On articles on this same topic, I've seen a lot of complaints about the promotion/raise going to the 'other person' that never took time off. People seem to think they deserve to abandon a company for several weeks/months of paternity/maternity/PTO time and still be considered a candidate for career advancement."

Well, maybe, but I think most people who try to build a more balanced life understand that they may have to trade a promotion for more time with family — or trade family time for a certain period if some major project is going on at work. I certainly "get" that.

Perhaps my favorite response, however, was from a reader who wrote that Glasenberg's opinion was nothing new.

"We all decide life's priorities," this reader posted. "No business has ever succeeded if they lost money, and he has just stated the obvious in a crass way. However, it is not incompatible for businesses to be socially responsible, provide needed goods or services and be profitable."

I completely concur with that sentiment, and I appreciate all of the discussion this topic has generated. I'd like to keep it going, so if you have ideas in this area, please let me know.

Email your comments to kratzbalancingact@gmail.com or post them online at deseretnews.com. Follow me on Twitter at gkratzbalancing or on Facebook on my journalist page.