The outgoing Coles CEO explained the brutal reality of running a big retail company in the modern age

Sergei Gapon/ AFP / Getty Images

If you get a sickening feeling that you always need just a little more time to get something done properly, then you probably need reminding about work-life balance.

John Durkan, the retiring Coles CEO, has explained what it was like to spend a decade turning around a big supermarket chain, sacrificing family life in the process.

“There is always stuff you need to do and you never leave the job finished,” he told The Australian.

“You always have that sickness in your stomach that says, ‘if I had a little more time to do something this is what I would do’.

“And I’ve given 10 really tough years to Coles, and through this process I have realised the sacrifice you make in terms of family.”

Durkan is departing as Wesfarmers plans to demerge the Coles supermarket division, floating off the retailer as a separate company on the ASX.

Steven Cain, a senior executive at Metcash, the operator of IAG supermarkets, will be the next Managing Director of Coles.

Since deciding to step down, Durkan says: “I got wonderful texts from my daughters, who are looking forward to seeing more of me and spending more time with me.”

Australians are becoming more focused on work-life balance.

The latest survey names a pet-friendly office, an onsite gym, and social activities among factors named by Australians believe will help make their working life more enjoyable.

The survey of 300 Australian executives and internal influencers by Think Global Research, commissioned by property group Dexus, found that Australians started 2018 determined to work smarter and strike a better work-life balance.

“The research findings highlight a belief that the workplace directly influences, job satisfaction, productivity and team engagement — three cornerstones of business success,” says the Workplace Report.

“As a result, among the top priorities for business leaders in growing SMEs is accommodating their employees’ needs around flexible workplaces, an improved sense of connectedness with their teams and work-life balance.

“This also reflects global trends which overthrow traditional workplace norms that dictate to be at work, you need to be physically present in the workplace.”

The latest research shows people should work toward knowing their limits.

Managers should strive for self-awareness, to know how people on the team are feeling and when they might need a break.

Australians, unlike most of their colleagues around the world, place a higher value on the flexibility of working conditions than on pay.

Work/life balance has for some time been the number one driver for Australian employees on the lookout for career opportunities, according to the Global Talent Monitor survey from best practice insight and technology company, CEB.

The extreme end of poor work-life balance is “death by overwork” found in Japan.

Japan has had a word to refer to people dying from spending too much time in the office: karoshi. The literal translation is “death by overwork.”

One of the recent cases is that of 31-year-old journalist Miwa Sado. She reportedly logged 159 hours of overtime in one month at the news network NHK, before dying of heart failure.

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